FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey expanded its medical marijuana program, including increasing the number of illnesses eligible for cannabis use, boosting the amount that can be dispensed and raising the number of cultivator permits, under a broad new law. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act on Tuesday at a tavern in Freehold known for holding charitable fundraisers.
"Today's legislation creates a medical marijuana program that is modernized, compassionate, progressive, and meets the needs of patients," Murphy said.
He was with the parents and sister of the bill's namesake.
The law is named after a 7-year-old who died early last year after battling brain cancer. His parents, Mike and Janet Honig, have fought for easier access to cannabis to ease pain during illnesses.
The measure makes a number of changes. It increases the limit that can be dispensed from 2 ounces to 3 ounces for 18 months after the law goes into effect, with a commission the measure establishes setting the limit afterward.
It boosts a patient's supply from 90 days to one year and allows for home delivery to patients.
The law lowers the threshold from debilitating illnesses to "qualifying" illnesses to make it easier for health care officials to prescribe the drug. The illnesses include seizure disorder, intractable skeletal muscular spasticity, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, cancer, as well as chronic pain and opioid-use disorder. Other illnesses could be added as well.
It permits physician assistants and advanced practice nurses to authorize medical cannabis. Previously, only doctors could prescribe it.
The law also sets up three new categories of licenses, including cultivators, manufacturers and dispensaries. Currently, there is only a single of permit allowing so-called alternative treatment centers that cover all three categories.
The law calls for expanding the number of cultivators to 28. In Murphy's first year as governor, the state said it would double alternative treatment centers from six to 12.
The measure also sets up a five-member commission to regulate the drug, taking oversight of the program from the Health Department, and phases out the 6.625 percent sales tax over three years.
Before Murphy signed the legislation, Mike Honig told an emotional story about Jake enjoying waffle fries and a milkshake while on medical cannabis. Mike Honig said the morphine and opioids doctors had prescribed had terrible side effects for Jake, including taking away his appetite and making him high. Medical cannabis, instead, helped his son feel like himself, he said.
It "allowed Jake's personality to shine through cancer," Mike Honig said.
Murphy and the Democrat-led Legislature expanded medical marijuana after lawmakers failed in March to pass legalized recreational cannabis.
New Jersey's program began in 2010, but Republican Gov. Chris Christie, an ardent marijuana critic, implemented the program slowly over his two terms.
The program has over 49,000 patients, up from about 15,000 when Christie left office in 2018.
Thirty-four states have medical marijuana programs, along with the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press.
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