Pubdate: Tue, 27 Mar 2018
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2018 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Jan Hefler, Staff Writer


Gov. Murphy greatly expanded New Jersey's medical marijuana program
Tuesday, opening the door to tens of thousands of new patients and
allowing the five dispensaries spread across the state to add
satellite retail centers and cultivation facilities.

The governor added to the list of ailments that qualify for a cannabis
prescription. He also cleared the way for any doctor in the state to
prescribe cannabis, ending a system in which only those physicians who
registered -- and thus, joined a publicly available list of providers
- -- could do so. He said some doctors had been reluctant to participate
in the program because they viewed joining the list as a stigma.

He is also calling for legislation to double the amount that patients
could purchase in a month, to 4 ounces.

Patients enrolled in the state's eight-year-old medical marijuana
program were quick to praise the governor's announcement and said it
was long overdue after years of inaction by Gov. Chris Christie, who
imposed strict regulations and promised to veto any expansion of the

"The days of making patients jump through hoops are coming to an end,"
Murphy said at a packed news conference during which he listed a host
of changes to the program. Chronic pain, anxiety, migraines, and
Tourette's syndrome are being added to the dozen ailments that
previously could be treated with cannabis.

Gov. Murphy at a news conference in Trenton announcing major changes
to the state's medical marijuana program.

Currently, there are about 18,000 patients enrolled in the program and
about 500 doctors.

Murphy said that in Michigan, a state with a population similar to New
Jersey's, there were about 220,000 patients. "We will have a medical
marijuana program … that at long last meets the needs of
patients," he said.

"Medical marijuana has saved my life," said Aubrey Conway, a patient
with spasticity who spoke before Murphy unveiled his proposals. "This
will save hundreds if not thousands of others."

Robert Kane, a marijuana patient from Ocean View, Cape May County,
said he was happy that the governor increased the list of qualified
ailments. He said that last year he petitioned the state Health
Department to add chronic pain and anxiety to the list and provided
research showing it had helped people suffering from these ailments.
The previous list included terminal cancer, epilepsy, and multiple

Christie had opposed expansion of the strictly regulated program and
said he viewed marijuana as a gateway drug that could lead to
addiction. Murphy said research has proven that marijuana is safe and
effective for some ailments. However, he said the Health Department
did not recommend adding opiate addiction disorder, as an advisory
committee had recommended last year.

Murphy said that he would allow the five existing dispensaries and a
sixth that is expected to open in the next few months to file
applications to create satellite facilities around the state so
patients don't have to travel as far. The $200 program registration
fee will be slashed to $100, while veterans and senior citizens would
qualify for a $20 reduced fee, along with those who receive public

When asked what he would do to help make marijuana more affordable,
since its cost now averages about $400 a month, the governor said he
would recommend that for-profit dispensaries be allowed to open in the
state. Currently the dispensaries are required to be nonprofit.

The changes come as state legislators weigh legalizing marijuana for
recreational use. Several bills that would do so are pending and the
governor has said he supports the move. But Murphy said he wanted to
address changes to the medical marijuana program first, saying this
was "a life and death" matter in many instances.

Mike and Janet Honig, who attended the news conference, said their
7-year-old son, Jake, used cannabis in the last three months of his
life after being diagnosed with brain cancer. "It made a tremendous
difference when he was on it," said Mike Honig, 35, of Howell. "Before
that, Jake was on morphine, OxyContin, Zofran, Zantac," and other
drugs that just made him sicker, Honig said.

Jake Honig, 7, of Howell, who died of brain cancer in January. His
father, Mike Honig, said medical marijuana helped the child's pain in
his final months.

Honig said he was pleased that the changes will open the program up to
more people who are suffering, and said he applauded Murphy's proposal
to allow patients to purchase 4 ounces of cannabis per month -- twice
the current allowance.

"When you are nearing the end of life, you need more," he said.
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