Pubdate: Thu, 22 Mar 2018
Source: Bridgeton News (NJ)
Copyright: 2018 Bridgeton News
Author: Susan K. Livio


Doctors would decide which patients should use marijuana as medicine
instead of being limited by a narrow list of eligible diseases set by
law, under a sweeping medical marijuana overhaul approved by a state
Assembly panel Thursday.

The measure that cleared the Assembly Health Committee would also
allow registered patients to buy up to four ounces of cannabis, or
twice as much as they are permitted to obtain now.

The dispensaries and cultivators would be divided evenly in the
northern, central and southern regions of the state, including the six
who are already licensed to grow and sell.

Many of the changes contained in the bill are under consideration by
the Murphy administration, which is winding down a 60-day audit of the
state medical marijuana program.

Gov. Phil Murphy is expected within the next week to announce major
rule changes to make cannabis more accessible, in response to
years-old criticisms the Christie administration had imposed too many
barriers to limit participation.

The bill (A3740/A3437) is a mash-up of a measure (A3437) sponsored by
Assemblymen Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, and Tim Eustace, D-Bergen, and
that of Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, who chairs the health
committee. One of the major differences between the two is Conaway's
bill repeals the list of qualifying conditions.

"We are putting patients and physicians in control," said Conaway, who
is a medical doctor. "I'm also hopeful with better access, we will be
able to de-escalate (the use of) opioids and reduce risk of unintended
addiction and death."

The state medicinal marijuana program serves 18,220 patients, who rely
on five alternative treatment centers that both grow and sell
cannabis. A sixth, Harmony Foundation, is expected to open in Secaucus
sometime in the spring -- seven years after the state approved the
dispensary's application.

Advocates of the program say enrollment has been suppressed in many
ways, but largely by not including chronic pain as a qualifying
condition. A medical advisory panel last year recommended the Christie
administration allow chronic pain, anxiety, and Tourette syndrome, but
the health department never approved the expanded list.

The bill also would:

* Slash the cost of patient registration from $200 every two years to
$50, and charge indigent patients $10 instead of $20.

* Require doctors to report patients to the state's prescription
monitoring program to track usage.

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, abstained from voting because
the committee had little time to review the revised legislation that
was presented minutes before the hearing began.

"For an issue this important, lets do this right," she said.

Assemblyman Joe Danielson, D-Somerset, voted yes, but with
reservations. "There's an undeniable need for the benefits of this
product," Danielson said.

But said he was troubled that the work that goes in a laboratory
making extracts and edibles is not regulated. "Unlike the
pharmaceutical industry, there are no standards."

The bill, which cleared the committee 6-2 with two abstentions, must
pass the full Assembly, then repeat the process in the Senate before
it gets to the governor's desk. If Murphy signs it, the law would take
effect within 90 days.

Murphy campaigned on a platform to legalize and tax recreational
marjuana, but he's made improving the medicinal program his first priority.
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MAP posted-by: Matt