Behind the dramatic changes made to New Jersey’s medical marijuana program last week was a desire to treat participants as “patients, not criminals,” Gov. Murphy said as he announced plans for an immediate overhaul that could open the program to 100,000 or even 200,000 new patients.
Under the stringent rules imposed by his predecessor, Chris Christie, a limited number of patients were permitted to buy cannabis and only six dispensaries were allowed to open across the state, the governor said. To be eligible, a patient had to have one of about a dozen ailments, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma, and could purchase only two ounces a month, under video surveillance.
Enrollment stalled and currently only 18,000 patients participate in the eight-year-old program, Murphy said.
Patients say the changes are long overdue.
“This may help get rid of the stigma surrounding marijuana,” said Leah Bakos, a patient from Bellmawr, who attended the governor’s announcement in Trenton. “Some people look down on you for using marijuana – they think you are a drug addict. … But when more sick people use it, and get better, the more they will spread the word to their friends, and that may start to change people’s minds,” she said.
The governor increased the number of qualifying ailments to about 50, adding broad categories such as chronic pain and anxiety to the list. Chronic pain includes arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, opioid addiction disorder, diabetes, and about 30 other conditions, while anxiety is associated with Alzheimer’s, autism, and other ailments, according to the Health Department.
A review panel of medical and pharmaceutical experts last year recommended 43 ailments to qualify for cannabis use and