New Jersey, the 11th most populous state and the 14th state to legalize medical cannabis, has a medical cannabis program that is still in its infancy. Despite having been created more than a decade ago, the program is struggling to serve almost 80,000 registered medical patients with just 11 operational dispensaries.
The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA), enacted in 2010, placed the state Department of Health in charge of regulating the medical program. The CUMMA provided for the establishment of six vertically integrated “alternative treatment centers.” To qualify for the medical program, patients had to: (a) be diagnosed with a “debilitating condition”; (b) register as a patient with the state; and (c) obtain a recommendation from a state-licensed physician. However, because the medical marijuana program was restrictive and procedurally delayed for years, fewer than 12,000 patients had registered for it by the end of 2017.
After Governor Phil Murphy took office in 2018, the program gained much-needed traction. During 2018-2019, the Department of Health approved six new vertically integrated alternative treatment center operators for a total of 12 (to be located evenly throughout the Southern, Northern and Central regions of New Jersey), and added seven new qualifying medical conditions for a total of 17 conditions. Governor Murphy thereafter enacted the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act, which, among other things, enabled home deliveries; created a Cannabis Regulatory Commission to regulate the program and any future adult-use program; increased the monthly amount of medical cannabis a patient can receive; and permitted nurse practitioners and physician assistants to recommend medical cannabis.
Currently, nine alternative treatment centers operate 11 dispensaries in the state, with three dispensaries expected to open this year. Because this limited supply cannot meet patient needs, the Department of Health sought to approve 24 new alternative treatment centers in 2019 (comprising five cultivators, fifteen dispensaries and four vertically integrated operators), but the application process was stalled after five applicants sued the department, claiming they were wrongly disqualified because of technical errors. Adding to this setback is the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing medically fragile patients from waiting in long lines. Consequently, the Department of Health now permits home deliveries, which could begin as early as August 2020.
While the medical cannabis program is in a state of rebirth, residents are expected to vote in favor of adult-use legalization via a ballot initiative this November.