The New Jersey State Assembly passed a medical cannabis expansion bill on Thursday, with 65 votes in favor, 5 against, and 6 abstentions.
The bill, called the ‘Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical [Marijuana] Cannabis Act,’ named after a 7-year-old boy who, before he died, used medical cannabis for pain relief while receiving treatments for a rare brain tumor, makes several amendments to the state’s existing medical cannabis program.
“When we improve access to medical marijuana, we give doctors and patients like Jake a safer and better option to relieve their pain,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Joann Downey, who sponsored the bill. “We are now making life better for so many New Jersey residents.”
The bill transfers oversight of the medical cannabis program to a yet-to-be established Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC). It expands the list of qualifying medical conditions for medical cannabis use and increases the maximum amount of medical cannabis that can be dispensed to a patient from two to three ounces.
Whereas earlier, doctors could only authorize a 90-day supply of medical cannabis to patients at a time, they could now approve a year-long supply, if the bill is signed into law. It would also provide legal protection to registered medical cannabis patients against discrimination when applying to schools or for state permits, and renting property.
However, the bill places tighter restrictions on criminal history records for medical cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, dispensary operators, and clinical registrants. An applicant could be barred from “holding interest in or being employed” at a medical cannabis operation if they were convicted for a crime of the first, second, or third degree, or a drug offense other than minor cannabis possession. Under the present law, only a drug offense other than minor cannabis possession was considered a “disqualifying conviction.”
“This bill took an immense amount of effort to write, to get us to the point we are today,” said Assemblyman Joe Danielsen. “We have the most progressive, innovative marijuana bill in the country.”
Assemblyman John DiMaio, abstained from voting, citing the need to immediately eliminate the sales tax on medical cannabis. At present, the bill requires sales tax on medical cannabis to be eliminated on January 1, 2025.
Medical cannabis “is a very expensive thing for patients to get their hands on,” said DiMaio. “It just seems not right that we tax this in the first place…it’s immoral that we tax medicine.”
DiMaio’s attempt to table the bill for amendments failed.
The Senate, which was slated to vote on the bill on Thursday, canceled its session and postponed the vote to next week. Senate President Stephen Sweeney did not respond to a request for comment regarding the postponement.