With the current prospects for cannabis legalization dimming, the New Jersey Department of Health has announced amended medical cannabis rules that are intended to expand access and eliminate bureaucratic barriers. The reforms are scheduled to take effect on May 20, 2019.

Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal said, “[t]hese rules solidify key program reforms to ensure greater patient access to this effective therapy. With these changes, the department will be able to add conditions more rapidly, remove barriers for minors and increase supply of product available."

The rule codifies the following changes that are already in effect:

  • Reducing the registration fee for qualifying patients and their caregivers from $200 to $100;
  • Adding seniors and military veterans to those eligible for the reduced registration fee of $20;
  • Authorizing qualifying patients to designate up to two primary caregivers instead of just one;
  • Reflecting the addition of seven “debilitating medical conditions” including PTSD, by statutory enactment; and six new conditions (anxiety, chronic pain of visceral origin, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, migraines, Tourette syndrome, and Opioid Use Disorder), by the State Health Commissioner’s March 22, 2018, petition decision, and January 23, 2019 revision;
  • Allowing physicians to opt out of inclusion on a public list of participating physicians;
  • Elevating the Medicinal Marijuana Program to division status within the Department of Health; and
  • Expands the forms of medical marijuana available in New Jersey to include oil-based formulations, like vape cartridges.

Additionally, the rule includes the following changes that will go into effect upon publication:

  • Creating a separate permitting system for cultivation, manufacturing and dispensing marijuana for medical purposes;
  • Streamlining the process to petition for the addition of “debilitating medical conditions” by removing the requirement that petitions first be referred to the Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel;
  • Emphasizing the advisory role of the Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel to include the provision of guidance and recommendations to the State Health Commissioner regarding the medical use of marijuana; and
  • Removing the requirement of psychiatric evaluation as a condition of physician certification of minors as qualifying patients.

One of the most important rule changes is the creation of separate permitting systems for cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensing operations. Previously, these three facets of the cannabis business were merged together under a single permitting process, forcing alternative treatment centers (ATCs) to participate in the entire supply chain. Under the new rules, ATCs can specialize in one part of the supply chain rather than be required to integrate cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensing under one business entity. In turn, this will increase the available supply of, and patient access to, medical marijuana.

In the proposed rule changes, the Department of Health acknowledged that the demand for medicinal marijuana in New Jersey exceeds the existing ATCs capacity. Further, the Department stated that the new permitting process will allow for “greater flexibility to judge potential applicants across a range of qualifications, and thereby establish a diverse and representative pool of ATCs to serve New Jersey’s qualifying patients.”