'The New Jersey Legislature last year finally jump-started its medicinal cannabis program after nearly a decade of over-regulation-induced dysfunction. The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act (CUMCA) Jake’s Law was passed in July, promising patients expanded access to cannabis, with a variety of cannabis products and at a more reasonable, affordable price. But so far only one new alternative treatment center has opened and prices are still the highest in the country.
Senate President Steve Sweeney’s plan to make medical cannabis affordable is through industry expansion. While that plan will already take years (that patients don’t have) to achieve, it may be even longer with new court-imposed delays on alternative treatment center (ATC) licensing.
With continued delays and lack of access, many patients will suffer and die before there’s a meaningful reduction in the legal market price. Patients can no longer afford to wait and shouldn’t have to bear the financial burden of corporate cannabis expansion when we’re talking about a plant many can grow themselves. Home-cultivated cannabis is roughly a quarter of the price of current ATC cannabis.
Oceanport cancer patient Jeffrey Oakes uses what energy he has to passionately advocate for medical cannabis access by speaking in towns banning access and raising awareness for access in hospitals. He and his wife Mary, a schoolteacher who left work to care for Jeff, also advocate for home cultivation and medicinal cannabis education in schools. Like many patients, Jeff struggles to get the medicine he needs.
Currently, ATCs have long lines and are experiencing shortages. Patients need consistency in supply and like the social equity measures in Jake’s Law, they also need economic justice through home cultivation. It would help affordably and more realistically fulfill the unlimited supply now allowed to be recommended to patients with terminal conditions. Without it, this recommendation provision is like mocking dying people.
Although there are provisions in Jake’s Law to supply medicinal cannabis at a reasonable or reduced price and even at no charge to those who’ve demonstrated financial hardship, that will take time for the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to establish, and given the number of patients and amount of cannabis this may include, it may not be sustainable for licensees. Senator Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, has introduced legislation to get the State Health Benefits Program and The Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund to help cover the cost of medical cannabis, which is helpful, but if we are looking for pathways to reduced-priced access, why are we still denying this solution, even after 14 current senators voted for it a decade ago?
By its very nature cannabis is not meant to be expensive. There are products out today to help safely and efficiently grow and unlike ATCs, people can grow organically and use the whole plant for a variety of health applications.
Cannabis, a superfood herb that works with our endocannabinoid systems to help preserve our health, should be legal to grow as part of our medical, religious, and civil rights and in line with our state motto, “liberty and prosperity.” Any legislator who is serious about medicinal cannabis access or affordable health care should be sponsoring it.
State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, recognized the need for it by including a limited program for it in his alternative medical cannabis expansion bill last year.
The benefits outweigh the risks when it comes to this access. It’s about lives and suffering saved, not dollars lost by the state or industry. Legalizing home grow makes it safer by educating growers and creating safety guidelines. Some states make revenue by registering growers. Fear of a rise in illicit market cannabis is not reason enough to deny this access to people Jake’s Law distinctly recognizes and legally protects access for because of their medical necessity. Currently the law criminalizes those who take their health into their own hands and deems their homegrown cannabis an illicit, dangerous substance that police will confiscate. Patients can barely afford cannabis, let alone any brush with the law.
Despite the fear-mongering of allowing home grow by cannabis business associations and politicians looking to legalize recreational pot, the 18 states plus Washington, D.C., that allow it are not repealing it or looking to do so.
New York’s latest legalization bill allows for home cultivation along with Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania. Sadly, New Jersey wouldn't even consider it.
It's not OK to make sick and dying people wait longer for relief. New Jersey legislators need to take seriously the compassion in the Compassionate Use Act and sponsor and pass a bill restoring patient/caregiver plant possession. We can call it Jeff’s Law to honor the dying activist.'
Jo Anne Zito is a board member of The Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey.