The state of New Jersey legalized medical marijuana in 2010 for patients with any of thirteen listed conditions, including MS, cancer (and terminal cancer), IBD/Crohn’s Disease, seizure disorders (including epilepsy), glaucoma and HIV/AIDS, among a few others. When Governor Chris Christie took office he declared that he had no intention of ever expanding the program, seeing it as a “back door” to legalized recreational marijuana. However, he did eventually sign a bill last year that allowed children to be given medical marijuana on school grounds as well as one that added Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to the list of qualifying conditions.
Aside from that, he has not done a lot to help the medical marijuana industry in New Jersey; instead he appears to have done everything in his power to slow things down for the industry – especially when it came to getting a panel of experts together who would oversee petitions for additional qualifying conditions, which only finally happened this past March. This past summer, the Department of Health finally announced that they would be taking petitions, where patients could ask the DOH to approve their condition as one that qualifies for medical marijuana.
“In our state, and in most of our country, sick people often have a limited list of expensive pharmaceutical options, many of which come with the potential for extreme side effects,” said Brian Haydon, president of 3fronts, a Ridgewood-based marijuana advocacy nonprofit. “Sick people shouldn’t have to live in fearful agony, and strong people shouldn’t sit silently as it happens,” he added.
The petitions are currently being reviewed and after the Department of Health determines which ones they believe should qualify, the updated list will be added to the DOH website for a 60 day public commenting period, as well as a public hearing held by the panel of experts. Once the panel makes their final recommendation, it will be up to the commissioner to make a final decision. It seems like a long process – but at least things are finally at the point where additional conditions can even be reviewed at all.
As far as additional conditions go there is a large number of them that have been petitioned for by patients, including asthma, arthritis, osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, Tourette Syndrome, depression, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s, neuropathic pain and opioid use disorder, among many others. While the chances of all of these conditions being approved the first time around is very slim, there are a number of conditions being petitioned for that have a decent bit of research to support their approval for MMJ treatment (much of which might not have been available when the law passed in 2010).
Hopefully it’s only a matter of a couple more months before a large number of people will be able to qualify for medical marijuana, rather than having no alternative to dangerous pharmaceuticals. With this being Christie’s last year in office there is a lot of hope that the next Governor will be more open to the idea of legalizing cannabis, which would allow those who do not qualify to self-medicate as they would with any over the counter medicine as long as they are of age. In the meantime, at least things are finally picking up speed for expanding the medical marijuana program in New Jersey.