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Conaway, Gusciora & Eustace Bill to Remove Bureaucratic Hurdles, Make Medical Marijuana More Accessible to Patients in NJ Clears Assembly Panel

Bill would authorize medical marijuana for treatment of any diagnosed condition, create more dispensaries, allow for larger supply of medicinal marijuana to be dispensed to adult patients & make it easier for patients who are minors to receive edible forms of medical marijuana

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D., Reed Gusciora and Tim Eustace to fix the flaws in the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, and make medical marijuana more accessible to patients who could benefit from it was released Thursday by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.

The bill 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, revise requirements for physicians to authorize qualifying patients and revise application, ownership, and operational requirements for alternative treatment centers.

“There is no benefit in denying a patient relief,” said Conaway, who chairs the committee. “Medical marijuana has the potential to treat many medical conditions. If a doctor believes medical marijuana can be an effective treatment, then they should be able to prescribe it to their patients.”

“However well intentioned, the current program has failed to meet the needs of the residents it sought out to help,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “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 to get it.”

“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 Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “If the goal is to really help people who are dealing with medical conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana, then we have to make it more accessible.”

Current law provides that medical marijuana may only be authorized for certain debilitating medical conditions. Under the bill (A-3740-3437), a physician would be able to authorize a patient for any diagnosed medical condition, including the symptoms of the condition and any symptoms resulting from treatment, that the physician determines may be treated using medical marijuana.

Under the bill, no application or renewal fee would apply for qualifying patients or in the case of an immediate family member of a qualifying patient who serves as primary caregiver to the patient. In all other cases, the maximum fee would be $10 for an individual who is indigent and $50 for all other cardholders. The current application fee is $200, with a reduced fee of $20 for low-income applicants. In addition, an immediate family member serving as a patient’s primary care giver would not be required to undergo a criminal history record background check. Also under the bill, a person may serve as primary caregiver for up to two patients at one time; under current law, primary caregivers are restricted to serving as primary caregiver for no more than one patient at a time.

Under the bill, physicians would not be required to enroll in a physician registry as a condition of authorizing qualifying patients for the medical use of marijuana. The bill would also remove the current requirement that physicians certify a patient for medical marijuana.

The bill would provide that, in order to authorize a qualifying patient who is a minor for medical marijuana, the certifying physician would be required to either: (1) be trained in the care of pediatric patients; or (2) obtain written confirmation from a physician trained in the care of pediatric patients establishing that, following examination of the patient or a review of the patient’s record, the minor patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefits from the medical use of marijuana to treat or alleviate symptoms associated with the patient’s debilitating medical condition.

The bill would increase the maximum amount of medical marijuana that may be dispensed to a patient for a 30-day period from two ounces to four ounces, or the equivalent amount of medical marijuana in any other form according to a list of equivalent dosage amounts to be established by the Commissioner of Health by regulation. The bill would also remove a provision that limits distribution of edible forms of medical marijuana to qualifying patients who are minors, and specifies that medical marijuana may be distributed in transdermal, sublingual, and tincture forms, as well as in the forms authorized under current law. When authorizing a qualifying patient for the medical use of marijuana, a physician must note the form of medical marijuana that is to be dispensed. If no form is noted, the instructions are to be returned to the physician in order to specify the form.

The bill would also provide that medical marijuana may be dispensed to a patient by any medical marijuana dispensary in the state. Under current law, patients are to be registered with, and may only be dispensed medical marijuana from, a single alternative treatment center (ATC) where the patient is registered. The bill would also require that, prior to dispensing medical marijuana to a patient, a medical marijuana dispensary must access a system currently maintained by the Division of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Law and Public Safety that tracks medical marijuana dispensations in the state, to determine whether any medical marijuana was dispensed to the patient or the patient’s primary caregiver within the preceding 30 days. Upon dispensing medical marijuana to a patient, the medical marijuana dispensary would be required to transmit to the authorizing physician information concerning the amount, form, and strain of medical marijuana that was dispensed.

Under the bill, a physician or an immediate family member of a physician who authorizes patients for medical marijuana may not hold any profit or ownership interest in an ATC.

A violation of this prohibition would constitute a crime of the fourth degree, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to 18 months, up to a $10,000 fine, or both. The bill also specifies that nothing in the prohibition would prevent a physician from serving on the medical advisory board of an ATC, provided the physician receives no special compensation or remuneration from the ATC, including payments based on patient volumes or the number of certifications issued by the physician.

ATC Application and Operational Requirements

With regard to ATCs, the bill differentiates between two different types of ATC: medical marijuana cultivator-processors and medical marijuana dispensaries. Medical marijuana cultivator-processors are facilities that would be authorized to cultivate and process marijuana and marijuana-infused and marijuana-derived products, which it may supply to medical marijuana dispensaries. Medical marijuana dispensaries would be authorized to dispense marijuana and marijuana products to qualifying patients. An ATC holding a permit as of the effective date of the bill would be deemed to hold both a cultivator-processor permit and a dispensary permit.

The bill would also impose certain limitations on individuals or entities holding a direct or indirect interest in an ATC that is issued a new permit under the bill. Specifically:

· A person or entity holding an interest in an ATC issued a permit prior to the effective date of the bill may simultaneously hold up to a 15 percent interest in up to one other ATC issued a permit prior to the effective date of the bill, medical marijuana cultivator-processor, or medical marijuana dispensary;

· A person or entity holding an interest in a medical marijuana cultivator-processor may simultaneously hold up to a 15 percent interest in up to one other medical marijuana cultivator-processor or in an ATC that was issued a permit prior to the effective date of the bill; and

· A person or entity holding an interest in a medical marijuana dispensary may simultaneously hold up to a 15 percent interest in up to one other medical marijuana dispensary or in an ATC that was issued a permit prior to the effective date of the bill.

To ensure adequate access to ATCs throughout the state, the bill would require the Department of Health (DOH) to issue a request for applications for six additional medical marijuana cultivator-processors and 34 additional medical marijuana dispensary permits within 90 days after the bill’s effective date. These new facilities, along with the six current ATCs in the state, would result in a total of 12 medical marijuana cultivator-processors and 40 total medical marijuana dispensaries.

The bill would also add specific requirements for DOH to review and score initial permit applications for new medical marijuana cultivator-processors and medical marijuana dispensaries based on a 100-point scale, which includes evaluations of the applicant’s operational plan, environmental impact plan, safety and security plan, business experience, proposed location, record of social responsibility, philanthropy, involvement in research concerning the medical efficacy and adverse effects of medical marijuana, workforce development and job creation plan, and business and financial plan.

In evaluating an application, DOH must limit its review to the controlling owners, officers, directors, and employees, and not consider responses pertaining to consultants, independent contractors, or prospective or part-time employees. To the extent possible, DOH must seek to ensure that at least 15 percent of the new medical marijuana dispensary permits issued under the bill are awarded to entities certified as a minority business, a women’s business, a veteran-owned business, or a disabled-veteran business, with higher preference going to entities that are certified in up to two such categories. Application materials submitted to DOH would not constitute a public record subject to the statutory or common laws concerning access to public records.

Under the bill, DOH employees would be prohibited from holding any financial interest in an ATC or receiving anything of value from an ATC in connection with reviewing, processing, or making recommendations with respect to an ATC permit application.

An initial ATC permit would be valid for three years and would be renewable on a biennial basis.