New bill to tax and regulate marijuana introduced!
Last update: June 19, 2017
The long-awaited bill to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol was introduced by Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) on May 18, 2017. A hearing to discuss the bill was held on June 19, 2017. The bill is not likely to move until 2018, however, since Gov. Chris Christie (R) has indicated he would veto it.
Sen. Scutari has been working to educate his colleagues about this issue, leading a bi-partisan trip to Colorado last year so lawmakers could learn more about legalization there. After the trip, Stephen Sweeney, the Senate President, said: “I am absolutely sold that this industry can be regulated. It’s safe, it’s well managed.”
Gov. Christie has said, “You’re d*%n right I’m the only impediment [to legalizing marijuana].” Thankfully, both major party candidates in this year’s governors race have more enlightened views on marijuana policy. On the Democratic side, Phil Murphy touted marijuana legalization during his victory speech following the primary. On the Republican side, while Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno does not support adult use, she has said she supports decriminalization and expanding the medical marijuana program.
MPP is working with New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR) to enact sensible marijuana policies in the Garden State. Please check out the coalition’s site, and then urge your legislators to support treating marijuana similarly to alcohol.
Progress slowly being made in expanding New Jersey’s medical marijuana program
At the end of 2016, the Garden State’s medical marijuana program was serving around 12,500 patients, after adding about 4,600 new patients that year. That is still a far lower proportion of the population than most other medical cannabis states, however, despite medical cannabis being legalized almost seven years ago.
The low participation is most likely caused by unreasonably strict requirements, including that patient eligibility must be reassessed at least every 90 days. New Jersey is one of only three medical cannabis states that doesn’t have a general category allowing people with intractable or severe pain to qualify. In addition, the prices for medical cannabis are among the highest in the nation, making the program inaccessible for many patients, 48% of whom receive benefits from Medicaid or similar programs.
Thankfully, a panel of experts that can recommend adding additional qualifying conditions was finally appointed in 2016, and in May 2017 it held the first of two public meetings. The panel preliminarily voted to recommend several conditions: irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, Tourette’s syndrome, and some types of chronic pain. If chronic pain is added, that would go a long way toward helping patients reduce their use of dangerous opioid painkillers.
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