A Surprising Obstacle
New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil Murphy is a supporter of the cannabis community. He made legalization part of his platform during the last gubernatorial election. And he’s supported an expansion of the state’s medical program. Apparently, this support has limits. Assembly officials in the Garden State recently announced they’re holding off on a vote to expand the state’s medical program, for fear the bill would be vetoed by the governor.
Gov. Murphy said he has issues with the proposed tax rate and how oversight will be conducted. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said changes to the bill are expected, although he didn’t offer any specifics. Coughlin told reporters that the governor himself had some changes in mind. While the assembly bill gives oversight to an independent Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the governor wants it to remain with the state’s Department of Health–which currently oversees the program.
Murphy acts Alone
The bill will go through some reconnoitering and must again pass through the Assembly and Senate. Meanwhile, Murphy unilaterally instituted his own changes to New Jersey’s medical cannabis landscape. On June 7, the governor used his executive power to expand the number of medical licenses the state could issue from six to 108.
Previously, only 12 were allowed. Just six such enterprises are currently in operation. Before the governor’s move, each operation had to be vertically integrated–meaning all stages of cultivation and production are controlled by one entity. That’s also no longer the case. The state will now issue 54 dispensary licenses, 30 processing licenses, and 24 cultivation licenses. Interested parties can start applying on July 1. Applications are due by August 16. Advocates say more dispensaries are needed to cut down on the long drives some patients must endure in order to get their medicine.
The Murphy administration said they calculated the number of licenses to issue in terms of need. “The demand on behalf of patients is overwhelming,” Murphy said during the announcement. “We can’t hold off any longer.” Each region in New Jersey will be offered a certain number of licenses. Up to 38 will be issued in the populous northern part, up to 38 in Central Jersey, and up to 32 in the southern region.
More Pressure on the Legislature
Although state legislators have condemned the governor’s move, it does put pressure on them to join Murphy in negotiations. Once the amendments are added to the bill, the assembly and Senate will once again have to pass them. While no new qualifying conditions were added to the program, this expansion of capacity will help meet the substantial and growing demand. When Murphy was elected, only 17,000 patients were on New Jersey’s medical roster. Now, it’s 47,000. “Our goal is to ensure a medical marijuana program that is as robust as it is compassionate,” the governor said in a news conference.
Sen. Ronald Rice (Democrat-28th Ward Newark) has been concerned about the social justice segment of the legislation. The bill does include the expungement of records for those convicted of possession of up to five pounds. Rice wants measures to address those currently incarcerated for minor crimes related to cannabis. Meanwhile, Republican legislators say five pounds is way too much to excuse. Time will tell how the program moves forward and what kind of horse trading is done. It’s possible the final law will look much different from the original bill.
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To learn more about New Jersey’s expansion, click here: