New Jersey has crafted one of the most progressive and innovative medical marijuana programs in the nation over the last two years, and it has been one of our proudest boasts.
But if a dying cancer patient, a vet haunted by PTSD, or someone in the grips of ALS or chronic migraines cannot afford the $10,000 monthly treatment — or if there is a shortage of the particular strain that will deliver effective relief — this program is of little use to them.
It is not acceptable to make sick and dying people endure such agony, especially if there are options available.
The easiest way to lighten the out-of-pocket burden and increase access for people who suffer is to allow them to grow their own medicine at home — something that is allowed in 18 states, but gets you a 3- to 5-year prison term for a single plant in New Jersey.
So we welcome two sensible ideas from Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), who has introduced measures that will address an emergency that has grown worse during this pandemic.
The first bill allows people to grow cannabis for medical purposes at home after registering as a “home cultivator.”
Those who say this could eventually hurt the retail market are entitled to their misconceptions: The home grower would be allowed to possess only four mature plants and four immature plants — not exactly enough for a cottage industry — and the state’s severe penalties for those unauthorized to grow will still apply, only with an additional $1,000 fine attached.
But it is unclear how many would choose to grow at home — it takes money and skill to build a thriving grow room — so for those who will continue to purchase, Singleton introduced another bill that subsidizes 20% of the cost of medical marijuana for qualified patients enrolled in Medicaid or NJ FamilyCare.
“There’s an extraordinary amount of frustration for those who need this medicine,” Singleton said. “These are people who also have to worry about the cost of prescription drugs, and we need to apply some downward pressure on pricing where we can, particularly during the pandemic.
“So this is one way to do it, by allowing a modest home grow component to alleviate the supply issue, but also to ensure that the medicine is more affordable to patients.”
Imagine being in ceaseless pain while you’re also at the mercy of Trenton, where progress on marijuana policy is as dynamic as watching a plant grow.
Gov. Murphy and lawmakers are still haggling over how to implement adult recreational use while keeping it away from minors, three months after the state overwhelmingly voted for legalization.
Eventually, our leaders will need to take a look at other home-grow proposals such as the one from Sen. Gerald Cardinale (D-Bergen), and debate whether allowing it for recreational users will damage the retail market. It will be a contentious debate.
But bringing comfort to the sick and dying is something we can do quickly without any discernible impact on, or protest from, the legal industry, experts claim.
Since the COVID nightmare began, we have re-learned that the medical marijuana industry is essential and that the distribution centers can’t always deliver what our sickest neighbors need, even if they are equipped to pay $400 per ounce.
There have been long lines and shortages of needed strains: “We saw it throughout the spring,” said Bill Caruso, founder of the New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. “The sickest of the sick were stuck outside in line, for medicine they did not get.”
These people don’t deserve more bureaucracy, they deserve better options. It’s time to deliver for them.