(TRENTON) – Legislation to fix the flaws in the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act and make medical marijuana more accessible to patients who could benefit from it cleared the Assembly Appropriations Committee Monday. It now heads to the Assembly floor for a vote on March 25.
The measure, now known as the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, is sponsored by Assembly Democrats, Joann Downey, Joseph Danielsen, Eliana Pintor Marin, Andrew Zwicker, Eric Houghtaling and Carol Murphy.
Assemblywoman Downey is the original sponsor of the bill named after Jake Honig, a seven-year old Howell resident nicknamed “Jake the Tank” who was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive from of brain cancer with a rare genetic mutation at the age of two. After undergoing dozens of rounds of chemotherapy, proton radiation therapy, and surgery, his tumor went into remission for four years, until follow-up scans determined that the tumor had returned and spread to other parts of his body.
Jake’s doctors advised his parents that there was nothing more to be done, and he was released to hospice care in his own home. Jake was prescribed six different medications to treat his side effects which included nausea, vomiting, agitation and acid reflux. Medical marijuana proved to be the most effective way of making Jake more comfortable. It helped to improve his mood, appetite and restore his mental well-being.
“Although medical marijuana proved to be an effective treatment for Jake, his parents noted the difficulties they encountered with the cost, quantity limits, and issues related to producing their own cannabis oil to administer to their son,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “In honor of Jake, who passed away last year, this bill seeks to remove certain restrictions on access to medical marijuana in order to reduce the suffering experienced by, and improve the quality of life of, New Jersey patients, like Jake, seeking treatment for a life-threatening medical condition.”
The bill (A-10-3740-3437), would expand access to medical marijuana for patients with any diagnosed medical condition, require issuance of additional dispensary permits, revise certain requirements concerning patients and primary caregivers as well as requirements for physicians to authorize qualifying patients and improve the application, ownership, and operational requirements for alternative treatment centers.
“This legislation is about helping residents gain access to new treatments that may help them to live better lives,” said Pintor Marin (D-Essex). “The medical marijuana program was left to languish under the previous administration and now deserves proper support from the state to improve access to medical treatments for residents who truly need it.”
“However well intentioned, the current program has failed to meet the needs of many of the residents it sought to help,” said Danielsen (D-Middlesex, Somerset). “Too many bureaucratic hurdles have rendered the program ineffective and incapable of meeting the demand for this treatment. This bill would make several revisions to the current law so patients who can benefit from medical marijuana can get it more efficiently and without having to jump through multiple hoops.”
“For many suffering from critical illnesses, increased access to medical marijuana will mean the difference between being able to participate in life or having to deal daily with, sometimes, debilitating symptoms,” said Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). “This legislation will provide the opportunity for better doctor-patient care with access to a wider range of treatments to fit the illness.”
“Too many restrictions have weakened this program and patients have suffered for it. Either we believe medical marijuana to be an effective treatment for some medical conditions or we don’t,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “If the goal is to really help people who are dealing with medical conditions, such as Jake, with symptoms that can be treated with a medical form of cannabis, then we have to make it more accessible- to help these individuals live their best lives for themselves and their families.”
“We want to put patients and doctors back in charge of a patient’s medical care plan,” said Murphy (D-Burlington). “The current system works against common sense. We need reasonable changes that make patient care the priority.”
The bill changes the regulatory structure for the State’s medical cannabis program, placing administration under the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) from the Department of Health (DOH). The CRC will have oversight over both the medical and adult-use programs, and will have broad authority to establish the detailed requirements for each program, issue permits, establish new permits, and determine the locations for new permits.