After only one week in office, New Jersey’s newest Governor Phil Murphy has signed an order to expand access to medical marijuana in the state. While New Jersey is one of 29 states in the U.S. to have legalized marijuana, the state’s previous governor, the vocal prohibitionist Chris Christie, had created several roadblocks to making New Jersey’s program usable. Medical marijuana was legalized shortly before Christie took over and the program’s development was halted by his office. Murphy who placed marijuana reform very high on his policy agenda during his campaign has already made strides forward.
Medical Marijuana “in Name Only”
As Murphy announced his plans to review and expand the current medical marijuana program, he criticized his predecessor first. He referred to medical marijuana under Christie as “in name only.” He said, “The roadblocks put in place by the past administration mean that the law’s spirit has been stifled. We’re not much further along in responding to the needs of patients than we were in January of 2010.” He explained that for the state’s population of 9 million, only 5 medical marijuana dispensaries have been licensed to open and only 15,000 have had access to medical marijuana. By comparison, Michigan, another legal state with a similar population, has over 218,000 registered patients. “Our law is 8 years old,” said Murphy. “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.”
Making Medical Cannabis More Accessible
Murphy has ordered that the state’s Department of Health conduct a thorough examination of the state’s current medical marijuana program and find out how to make it more accessible to patients who need it. The Department will have 60 days to conduct their research before executing a plan of action. The aim will be to lift restrictions on the doctors who will be recommending the plant for treatment. The number of conditions that qualify for treatment is expected to increase as are the number of open dispensaries. The current law bans smokeable and edible medical marijuana products. The program changes may allow for the use of edible marijuana options.
Advocating Recreational Marijuana
Murphy has also been an advocate of legalizing recreational marijuana. During his campaign for governor, he pointed out that prohibition led to a disproportionate number of arrests against African American and Latino communities. This leads to higher prison populations and a number of social issues for a low-level drug charge. He also talked about the potential for profits for the state of New Jersey. He estimates that the legalization of recreational marijuana would result in $300 million in state revenue. This amount could be used to help the state’s economy. A bill that would legalize the plant is currently pending in New Jersey legislature.
Murphy has not mentioned his plans for recreational marijuana at this time however. For now, what we know is that Murphy plans to update and finesse the current medical marijuana program in New Jersey so that patients can have access to the care they need.