It’s amazing how quickly things can change — especially when it comes to the volatile relationship between New Jersey and its “will they or won’t they” marijuana soap opera.
The last time I did a marijuana mailbag, it seemed like the Garden State was on the verge of becoming the 11th state to legalize weed.
Now? New Jersey is getting lapped by a state that thinks the shores of Lake Michigan count as “the Shore.” The legal weed bill is basically DOA, but the Legislature
is isn’t maybe can’t make up its mind on a decriminalization bill.
The New Jersey marijuana landscape is murkier than ever. As the 33rd most powerful person in the New Jersey cannabis industry (I told you I’d amount to something, Mom), I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can.
(And it should go without saying, but: If you like reading about legal weed, illegal weed, medical marijuana and everything in-between? Subscribe to the Asbury Park Press and USA TODAY NETWORK. We can’t do it without you.)
Let’s get into it.
Q: Does the new medical marijuana bill expand/increase the qualifying conditions? (Domenico F.)
A: The Honig Act doesn’t specifically create new qualifying conditions that make patients eligible for medical marijuana. But it could significantly cut down the length of time it takes for one to be added.
Here’s how it works right now:
- The state health commissioner appoints a “review panel,” which accepts petitions for new qualifying conditions for one month per year.
- If the panel wants to add one of the conditions, the department schedules a 60-day public comment period.
- The panel then finalizes its request for the commissioner to add the condition.
- The commissioner has six months to approve or deny the request.
For those keeping score at home: It could take nine months from the time petitions are open to the time a new qualifying condition is approved.
The new medical marijuana bill puts the onus squarely on the five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission, a quasi-independent regulatory authority first proposed in the ill-fated New Jersey marijuana legalization bill. More on that later.
The CRC could essentially add new conditions to the medical marijuana program at their will. The law does not require the commission to follow specific guidelines or timeframes.
Q: When will we know about new dispensaries? Three-hour drives are impossible for sick people. (Ellen D.M.)
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A: It’ll take a while, Ellen.
The Department of Health just issued its request for applications for new medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivators or manufacturers. Applications are due by Aug. 16, but the DOH hasn’t put a timeline on when it expects to make a decision.
Last year, it took the department over three months to review the 146 dispensary applications it received. And that was for six new dispensaries — a drop in the bucket compared with the 53 licenses up for grabs this time around.
It’s also important to note that those six new dispensaries were supposed to be open by now. Instead, they’ve been tied up in court, the subject of lawsuits filed by losing applicants alleging that the process wasn’t fair.
The Honig Act, if signed into law as written, has its own timeline for new dispensaries. According to the bill, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission will start accepting applications for new dispensaries within 90 days, and approve or reject them within another 90 days.
Q: How will CRC members be chosen? What rules will apply to them? (Jo Anne Z.)
Great question, Jo Anne. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission is going to have a whole lot of power when it comes to not just medical marijuana but, I’d assume, recreational marijuana as well, if the Garden State ever actually legalizes weed.
The basics are this: The CRC will be made up of five commissioners, each one a full-time job with a $125,000 salary ($141,000 for the chair).
Three commissioners will be appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy, while Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, each get one.
USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey reporter Mike Davis answers questions about NJ marijuana legalization, including where you can/can’t smoke medical marijuana and if legal weed will be vertically integrated. Mike Davis and Ryan Ross, Asbury Park Press
Remember, the Honig Act includes a lot of the language from the marijuana legalization law, including Murphy’s mandate that the governor’s office be given the majority of the appointments and that they won’t have to be approved by the Senate.
Future appointments will have to go through the wringer of a Senate hearing, similar to a judge.
All five commissioners are expected to have some education, training or experience with either criminal justice issues, industry management, finance or health. And at least one commissioner must be a state representative of a social justice organization.
Mike Davis writes about the seemingly never-ending push to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, including the effects it would have on the economy, the black market and regular people. No, he can’t tell you where to buy illegal drugs. Contact him at email@example.com or @byMikeDavis.
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