A new day may be dawning on both New York and New Jersey medical cannabis programs. Their close proximity to one another, shared infrastructure, and easy commuting between New York City and the various suburbs means they’ve always shared many common interests. We can add their viewpoint on cannabis to that list. Both states initially pushed to join the ranks of those states who legalized adult use of cannabis. Ultimately, neither state passed such legislation. So what does that mean for the states’ medical cannabis programs?

In New Jersey, the state assembly recently passed the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, the biggest change to the program since the bill was first signed into law nearly 10 years ago. If the bill is approved and ultimately signed into law, it would create a program that Sen. Joe Danielsen called a “national model” for medical marijuana programs. New Jersey currently has nearly 50,000 registered medical cannabis patients.

New Jersey’s Honig Act

What changes would the Honig Act bring to the state? The act would revamp nearly every aspect of the medical marijuana process. Under current law, there are a number of medical conditions that qualify a patient to use medical cannabis.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders or of visceral origin
  • Migraines
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • ALS
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Opioid use disorder
  • Any terminal illness with a prognosis under 12 months.

Patients may also be authorized for medical cannabis if conventional therapy fails to treat conditions such as epilepsy, glaucoma, and PTSD.

Under the new bill, all of the above conditions would be considered a “qualifying condition,” allowing for medical cannabis use. Another change is removing the requirement for doctors to register with the state before they can recommend medical cannabis to a patient. Removing the registry requirement is expected to bring in new doctors and medical practices, making the process of finding medical cannabis easier.

One of the biggest changes addresses the process required before doctors can authorize a patient for medical cannabis use. Currently, a doctor must establish a bona fide relationship with the patient, which is defined as a “relationship in which the physician has ongoing responsibility for the assessment, care, and treatment of a patient’s debilitating medical condition.” If the Honig Act becomes law, the bona fide relationship requirement is removed. A doctor would be able to recommend medical cannabis following an initial visit with a patient, provided they’ve examined them, diagnosed the issue, and believe that cannabis would be helpful. Advanced practice nurses and physician’s assistants would also be able to recommend medical cannabis to patients.

The Honig Act would also add additional dispensaries throughout the state, as well as eliminate the state sales tax on medical marijuana purchases beginning in 2025. However, municipalities would be allowed to assess their own two percent tax on medical cannabis purchases within their municipalities. The Honig Act seeks to expand and grow New Jersey’s medical cannabis program. It requests the New Jersey Department of Health to issue 11 new permits for cannabis cultivators soon after the bill is signed into law. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which the bill establishes, could also issue new licenses for dispensaries. Finally, the Honig Act would replace the current requirement that patients re-certify on a quarterly basis with an annual recertification process.

New York’s Take

New York’s Assembly has also quietly introduced its own bill that would make it easier for the state’s medical cannabis patients to obtain their required product. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and state Senator Diane Savino introduced the bill, which builds on proposals present in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget. It would allow health care providers to decide who should have access to the drug, increase the number of dispensaries statewide, eliminate patient registration fees, and remove a ban on the sale of smokable marijuana.

New York legalized cannabis for medicinal use in 2014, but didn’t actually implement its program until 2016. In the approximately three and a half years since its introduction, the New York Department of Health certified over 100,000 patients for the program. While that sounds like a large number, it’s rather low when compared to similarly sized states. New Mexico has approximately 70,000 patients registered in its program, but only has a total statewide population of approximately 2.1 million. Brooklyn has an estimated 2.6 million residents.

Part of the reason for New York’s slow growth – there are only 40 dispensaries allowed within the state and only 35 of those 40 are currently operational. Additionally, there are only 13 qualifying conditions and patients can only access 30 days’ worth of the drug at a time. This is problematic for residents who live in portions of the state without a major metropolitan hub.

The new bill plans to treat medical-grade cannabis like any other medication. This change would permit an approved health care provider to decide whether a patient would benefit from medical marijuana, rather than requiring them to have one of 13 state-approved medical conditions in order to qualify. Any medical provider authorized to prescribe a controlled substance, including podiatrists and dentists, could recommend patients for the program.

New York’s bill would also implement a $50 patient registration fee and allow the sale of smokable marijuana. This is the cheapest form of retail marijuana, but it is currently banned in New York. The new bill would also increase the amount of cannabis a patient could obtain, increasing it from a 30-day supply to 60 days. It would also double the number of allowed dispensaries per registered organization from four to eight.

The bill also seeks to establish a research program, expand third-party testing of cannabis products beyond the state’s Wadsworth Laboratory, and allow companies to contract out things such as security or transportation.

In Conclusion

Both of these bills could result in large scale changes through New York and New Jersey, increasing patients’ access to the drug and providing relief to many people who currently are prohibited or restricted from using medical cannabis. The proposed changes would expand access, grow the programs and may ultimately lead to adult use regulations gaining further traction.

As changes continue to proliferate on both the state and federal level, when it comes to all variants of cannabis products, we’ll continue to monitor these changes and identify how it impacts clients and companies in all states