On July 2, 2019, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act into law. The law set a new foundation for New Jersey’s medical cannabis program — one that is patient centered, compassionate, and scientifically focused. Since the beginning of the Murphy Administration — when only 17,000 patients were enrolled — the program has enrolled 63,000 new patients for a total of 80,000 New Jersey residents who are getting the help they need.
Over the past year, we’ve also made tremendous progress in implementing its provisions — from increased purchase limits, to relaxed regulation of physician-patient relationships, to new kinds of medical cannabis products and even authorizing home delivery — but more needs to be done.
Jake Honig, the namesake of the law, was a young boy from Howell who tragically passed in 2018 after being diagnosed in 2012 with an incurable form of cancer. For Jake and his family, medical cannabis was a last resort. But as his father, Mike, has noted, it worked wonders and allowed Jake to be a kid again, to enjoy quality time with family and friends in his final days with less pain, less anxiety, and less harsh side effects of other medications. Unfortunately, the previous law limited what Jake’s parents could purchase to 2 ounces every month, an arbitrary cap that left them often unable to purchase as much as they needed and threatened to derail the benefits they were seeing in their son. Thanks to their advocacy, no patient in New Jersey will ever face that dilemma again.
Immediately following the signing of the new law, the Department of Health directed New Jersey’s Alternative Treatment Centers to allow terminal patients to purchase as much as they needed, recognizing the historic repeal of the 2-ounce monthly limit. Weeks later, the Department enacted the provisions raising the monthly limits to 3 ounces for all patients.
Aside from monthly purchase limits, before July 2019, the number one complaint received by the Department of Health was about doctor visits. New Jersey’s original medical cannabis law contained the bureaucratic requirement that patients had to go back to the doctor at least every three months to maintain authorization for the use of medical cannabis. It was a requirement not based on medicine, or compassion, but one that had been devised in the halls of the statehouse and signed into law nearly a decade prior when New Jersey first legalized medical cannabis. It required all patients — regardless of their diagnosis or treatment plan — to make a trek every 90 days to a doctor — often to merely have it confirmed that their incurable, chronic disease was still incurable and chronic — and then in most cases to pay out of pocket for the visit.
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In August 2019, we implemented provisions that ended that requirement and put decisions about a patients’ treatment plans back into the hands of physicians. Now, doctors can authorize patients for the use of cannabis for up to a year at one time, or however long they think is most appropriate for each individual patient, their disease, and their treatment plan. Now, the frequency of doctor visits is determined by medicine— not by lawyers and lobbyists.
Other important provisions of Jake Honig’s Law that are already in effect include the ability for out-of-state patients to possess medical cannabis in New Jersey, employment and other civil protections for patients, and the addition of new qualifying medical conditions, like dysmenorrhea.
Additionally, no longer do parents like Jake’s, or other family members of patients need to undergo a criminal background check to help their loved ones access a much-needed therapy.