Exactly one week after taking office, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has signed an executive order expanding access to medical marijuana for patients who qualify for it under state law.
Murphy's order instructs the state Health Department to review barriers to access for patients, and remove them.
Cannabis reform was near the top of Murphy’s policy agenda during last year’s campaign. The Democrat promised to sign legislation legalizing and regulating the adult use of cannabis. That bill is now working its way through the New Jersey Legislature. In the meantime, Murphy this morning signed an executive order aimed at cutting through the difficulties encountered by the state’s 15,000 registered patients who currently have access to only five dispensaries across New Jersey.
Murphy called the state’s medical marijuana program, which was enacted in 2010 and then slow-walked under previous Gov. Chris Christie, an MMJ program “in name only,” and declared that New Jersey’s patients will no longer be denied compassionate care.
Murphy noted that New Jersey, with a population of 9 million, serves only 15,000 patients. Michigan, with a similar population, serves more than 218,000 patients, and Arizona, with a smaller population, serves more than 136,000 patients. “The need for medical marijuana in New Jersey currently far exceeds the supply that the existing licensed [dispensaries] are able to provide,” says the order. (The full text of Murphy’s executive order is reprinted below.)
“Our law is eight years old,” Murphy said. “Since it took effect, significant medical research has been conducted. Our goal is to modernize the program in New Jersey, bring it up to current standards, and put patients first.”
Murphy says he’s asking state government to focus on expanding the medical marijuana program and proposing new rules or repealing those that hamper the program.
The advocacy group NJ Marijuana Reform posted this video of the governor at this morning’s ceremony:
— NJ Marijuana Reform (@NJU4MR) January 23, 2018
Krystal Knapp, reporting for PlanetPrinceton, noted that:
Due to administrative barriers instituted by the Christie administration, Murphy said New Jersey’s highly stringent rules have means countless residents who could benefit from medical marijuana are left out of the program. More than 15,000 people currently enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program have access to only five dispensaries in operation in the state.
To combat lack of access, the executive order mandates that the New Jersey Department of Health and Board of Medical Examiners complete the review of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program within 60 days. The order also requires that the review’s findings are submitted along with recommendations for new rules and regulations – or for the elimination of existing ones.
Murphy himself tweeted that he’s “turning the page” on MMJ access in the Garden State:
For eight years, medical marijuana has been difficult to access in New Jersey. Today, we’re turning the page. A fairer New Jersey means expanding access to medical marijuana for patients in need. pic.twitter.com/HtDqQDxShK
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) January 23, 2018
Full Text of Murphy’s Executive Order
WHEREAS, it is beyond dispute that patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions deserve to live in dignity with as little suffering as possible; and
WHEREAS, medical decisions must be based on science and health, not ideology or social policy; and
WHEREAS, scientific studies demonstrate that the medical use of marijuana has proven to be an effective treatment for patients suffering from painful, debilitating, and often chronic medical conditions; and
WHEREAS, New Jersey amended its state law to allow for the authorized medical use of marijuana with the passage of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act in 2010; and
WHEREAS, 29 states have recently allowed the use of marijuana for medical purposes; and
WHEREAS, even a Republican-controlled Congress has repeatedly renewed the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, prohibiting the U.S. Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws; and
WHEREAS, implementation of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was a lengthy process marked by significant delays, resulting in far fewer patients being served by the program than anticipated when the law was enacted; and
WHEREAS, there are currently five medical marijuana alternative treatment centers (ATCs) in operation in New Jersey; and
WHEREAS, only one additional ATC has been able to obtain a permit and is scheduled to begin operations in the foreseeable future; and
WHEREAS, of New Jersey’s nine million residents, only approximately 15,000 are able to participate in the State’s medical marijuana program; and
WHEREAS, in contrast, the medical marijuana program in Michigan, a state with a similar population to New Jersey, currently serves over 218,000 patients, and the program in Arizona, a state with a smaller population than New Jersey, serves over 136,000 patients; and
WHEREAS, the need for medical marijuana in New Jersey currently far exceeds the supply that the existing licensed ATCs in operation are able to provide; and
WHEREAS, giving patients a greater opportunity to obtain medical marijuana in accordance with State law will ensure that they are receiving a product tailored to their medical needs, and make them less likely to turn to potentially more harmful and less medically appropriate drugs such as opioids, the use of which was declared a public health crisis in Executive Order No. 219 (2017); and
WHEREAS, one study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that the annual number of deaths from prescription drug overdose is 25 percent lower in states where medical marijuana is legal than in states where it is illegal; and
WHEREAS, my administration is committed to fulfilling the intent, promise, and potential of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act by providing patients in New Jersey with a well-functioning and effectively administered medical marijuana program that best serves their medical needs;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, PHILIP D. MURPHY, Governor of the State of New Jersey, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and by the Statutes of this State, do hereby ORDER and DIRECT:
1. The Department of Health (“Department”) and the Board of Medical Examiners (“Board”) shall undertake a review of all aspects of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, with a focus on ways to expand access to marijuana for medical purposes. This review should include, but not be limited to:
a. An evaluation of the current rules regulating the operations and siting of dispensaries and cultivation facilities, particularly focusing on whether the rules should be revised to remove unwarranted obstructions to expansion;
b. A review of the current process for obtaining a license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary, including recommendations to expedite that process;
c. An examination of conditions for participating physicians in the program to ensure that any such requirements are not needlessly onerous;
d. An analysis of the current list of debilitating medical conditions for which medical marijuana may be authorized pursuant to N.J.S.A. 24:61-3, and a recommendation as to whether doctors should be given flexibility to make these determinations on their own;
e. An assessment of the methods through which patients or their primary caregivers are obtaining medical marijuana and a recommendation of whether rules should be amended to approve additional methods that could facilitate patient access;
f. A review of regulations that govern the forms in which medical marijuana can be ingested, taking into consideration the needs for different methods for different patients; and
g. Any other aspect of the program within the Department or the Board’s discretion that hinders or fails to effectively achieve the statutory objective of ensuring safe access to medical marijuana for patients in need.
2. This review shall conclude within 60 days of this Order, at which time the Department and Board shall initiate the rule making process for appropriate regulatory reforms consistent with this Order.
3. This Order shall take effect immediately.
GIVEN, under my hand and seal this 23rd day of January, Two Thousand and Eighteen and of the Independence of the United States the Two Hundred and Forty-Second.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.