For New Jersey, marijuana use remains a hot topic that’s struggled to keep out of the backburner. In 2019, New Jersey was unable to legalize marijuana, as promised. However, the state took some critical steps to increase medical marijuana accessibility to thousands of residents. On July 2 of the same year, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill expanding the state’s medical-marijuana program into law.

The bill opens up many possibilities. First, it presents a more extensive and competitive market for medical marijuana providers in the state. Secondly, it increases the amount of cannabis (e.g., cannabis edibles) that patients can buy and lower the number of times patients need to visit a doctor to qualify. No doubt, the bill – now law – is great news for any NJ marijuana dispensaries as dispensaries will become more functional and capable of satisfying New Jersey’s cannabis consumers’ needs. So, what inspired this expansion?

Jake Honig’s Story
Jake Honig was a 7-year old boy who battled with cancer and later passed away in 2018. The major catalyst in getting the medical marijuana expansion through the legislature was the tale of the relief Honig found from marijuana during his cancer treatment. To this end, parents of Jake, Janet, and Michael Honig joined the governor, press, and other advocates to push for and ushering the new era of medical marijuana in NJ. However, it is pertinent to consider the backdrop of medical marijuana legalization to understand the purpose of the expansion.

Background of the Expansion
On January 18, 2010, former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine signed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana into law, thereby permitting medical cannabis use. However, it explicitly limited its use to persons with listed medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, seizure disorder, Lou Gerghig’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and any terminal illness. This represents the threshold for the proliferation of marijuana use in New Jersey, which has since undergone legal reforms. After the legalization of medical marijuana in 2010, enrollment in the medical marijuana program recorded small numbers.

But as of 2015, 5,540 patients were registered as part of the program, along with 355 caregivers authorized to buy on behalf of an ill patient. And as of 2017, there were 11,659 qualified patients in the states, and as of 2019, 47,000 persons had enrolled for the program. Under New Jersey’s medical-marijuana law, marijuana dispensaries receive contracts from the state. These centers must be nonprofit and have the exclusive right to produce and sell medical marijuana in New Jersey. The first dispensary opened in December 2012 in Montclair. By October 2015, four additional centers had opened in Egg Harbor Township, Woodbridge, Bellmawr, and Cranbury. In July 2017, the state issued a sixth and final permit, to the non-profit Harmony Foundation, allowing it to cultivate marijuana in Secaucus after receiving an additional permit, Harmony opened a dispensary in Secaucus in June 2018. In 2019, there was a move for a massive expansion of NJ marijuana dispensaries.

Stakeholders’ Take
When in 2019, the Murphy administration, in what is regarded as a dramatic revamp of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, sought applicants to open and operate up to 108 marijuana dispensaries statewide, up from the current number of six, it wasn’t a walk in the park as many guessed. There was a series on the back and forth as varying shades of opinions rolled in. According to the New Jersey Department of Health, the additional cultivators, manufacturers, and dispensaries would meet a demand in the medical marijuana program that has nearly doubled since the beginning of 2019.

Similarly, Ken Wolski, executive director of The Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey, mused that “it represents a reasonable expansion of the medical marijuana program based on the increased patient demand for it.”At a news conference in Hackensack, Murphy said the expansion would show compassion to thousands of people. When he took office, he said, there were about 17,000 people enrolled in the medical marijuana program. Now there are about 47,000. According to him, “it will mean an enormous difference for patients.” The move was necessitated by a demand-supply imbalance as there were only six NJ marijuana dispensaries as of 2019. As proposed, the operators would be spread statewide: 38 in northern New Jersey, 38 in the central region, and 32 in the southern region. And their sizes would range from 5,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet, giving small businesses a chance to compete with larger operators.

In the same vein, Paul Josephson, an attorney with Duane Morris in Cherry Hill, who represents the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association, stated that “there’s going to be a concern in licensing a medical dispensary, with towns asking ‘is this going to become an adult-use?’” “Municipalities will be able to control that,” he said. “You’re still going to have to convince the town and the community to accept recreational sales.”

“For over a year, the Legislature has worked tirelessly with this administration to create a responsible and accessible medicinal cannabis market,” Coughlin said. He added that “The Legislature understands the obstacles many suffering from critical and chronic illnesses are facing and will undoubtedly remain committed to moving forward with legislation that will expand access to medical cannabis in a safe, accessible, and regulated market.”



With these and many more submissions, it wasn’t surprising when the bill was finally signed into law in July 2019. Today, there’s improved access to marijuana in NJ. From vaporizers, tinctures, oils, and cannabis edibles, marijuana’s flexibility has won it the acceptance of many, especially for the people of NJ who now have more access to it.

Conclusion
As in NJ, new laws are being established, and bills are being approved, the dispensaries are becoming more functional and efficient enough to satisfy more consumers. As NJ continues to close the demand-supply gaps, the massive expansion of NJ marijuana dispensaries cannot be forgotten in a long time.