On March 16, 2015, a panel of the New Jersey General Assembly approved a package of three bills designed to improve the operation of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program for patients with severe illnesses who rely on the program for medical relief. These bills will now be subject to consideration by the entire General Assembly.
ACR-224 would require the Department of Health (“DOH”) within thirty days to revise certain regulations governing New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. The proponents believe that the regulations have placed an undue burden on patients seeking medical marijuana therapy and are inconsistent with the legislative intent underlying the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (“Compassionate Use Act”).
Among the regulations addressed by ACR-224 are regulations: (1) requiring physicians to register with DOH, and the DOH’s publication of registered physicians; (2) requiring approval of up to three physicians, including a psychiatrist, to prescribe medical marijuana for minor patients; (3) prohibiting alternative treatment centers from producing or dispensing medical marijuana in edible form; (4) limiting permissible levels of THC in medical marijuana; (5) prohibiting alternative treatment centers from cultivating more than three strains of medical marijuana; (6) prohibiting alternative treatment centers from using satellite locations to dispense medical marijuana; and (7) prohibiting the shipment or delivery of medical marijuana to the home or residence of a patient or primary caregiver. These last two regulations have been viewed as particularly destructive of the legislative intent underlying the Compassionate Use Act, because many of the patients who qualify for medical marijuana therapy are gravely ill with debilitating conditions such as terminal cancer or ALS, which prevents them from traveling to treatment centers to obtain medical marijuana therapy.
A-4286, the second proposed bill, would revise the Compassionate Use Act to allow the transfer of any excess inventory from one authorized alternative treatment center to another alternative treatment center. Such inventory could include marijuana seeds, seedlings, or paraphernalia; marijuana plants; or marijuana packaged for use by qualifying patients in a form authorized by law. This provision would facilitate the transfer of inventory among alternative treatment centers in order to meet patient demand at different locations around the state.
Finally, the third proposed bill, A-3726, would add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of qualifying medical conditions for which medical marijuana therapy would be available in New Jersey. Under this bill, a PTSD patient would have to be resistant to conventional medical therapy, which typically combines psychotherapy with antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, and would also have to meet other requirements under the Compassionate Use Act.
Under New Jersey law, the DOH would have thirty days from the date of transmittal of the resolution to amend or withdraw the regulations at issue, or the legislature may, through the passage of a concurrent resolution, invalidate the DOH rules and regulations in hold or part pursuant to its authority under the state constitution.
This legislation, if passed, would certainly facilitate greater availability of medical marijuana for qualified patients in New Jersey, consistent with legislative intent underlying the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.