POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Murphy unveils plan for expanding medical marijuana program

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Gov. Phil Murphy announced major changes to the medical marijuana system Tuesday. The current system is limited to such conditions as multiple sclerosis, ALS, epilepsy, cancer, AIDS and others.

Murphy is adding anxiety, migraines, chronic pain and tourette’s to the list. He is lowering the cost of participation from $200 to $100, or just $20 for veterans, seniors and the disabled. He’s taking a number of steps to expand access to, and the number of, dispensaries.

His audience Tuesday included many who rely on the drug.

“To you and to all who have struggled through the bureaucratic nonsense thrown at you for too long, help is finally on the way,” said Murphy.

Gov. Jon Corzine signed legislation legalizing medical pot on his last day in office. Gov. Chris Christie inherited the law and made it very restrictive. Doctors had to register with the state, and very few did. Patients needed to see those doctors every three months and faced other hurdles.

“The days of making residents jump through hoops are coming to an end,” Murphy announced.

There are currently five dispensaries for the whole state, with a sixth coming online in Secaucus this spring. Murphy will allow them to create satellite facilities and encourage new dispensaries. He’ll end the doctor registry, ask the Legislature to lift a 2-ounce monthly limit to 4-ounces, and allow edibles, which are currently not allowed.

“These reforms are just the beginning. There are many other measures that we will consider going forward, including the goal of home delivery to ensure a program that provides the compassionate care that has been lacking for eight years,” said Murphy.

The changes come out of Executive Order 6, a 60-day review Murphy triggered back in January. They were well-received by advocates and patients, like Lindsay Abromaitis of Flemington, who has ALS.

“She’s told me that it is the only thing that helps her pain. There’s lots of pain involved with ALS, lots of cramping, muscle spasms, and the only thing that has helped her is medical marijuana,” said Lindsay’s mother, Karen Abromaitis.

Another change is that the medical marijuana program will become its own division within the New Jersey State Department of Health.

“This is really the beginning, I think, of the expansion of the program. We’d like to see it available to any patient who a doctor recommends,” said Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana – New Jersey.

Going forward, any doctor authorized to prescribe painkillers will be able to prescribe marijuana, and Murphy sees that as a way to cut into the number of opioids being dispensed.

What this expansion of medical marijuana means for the future of recreational marijuana is unclear. What is clear is that Murphy supports both of them.