Legal Weed in N.J. Failed. But Murphy Says He Will Soon Expand Medical Marijuana to as Many as 200K Patients.

March 26, 2019

by NJ Advance Media staff writer Brent Johnson contributed to this report,

Only hours after after a bill that would legalize marijuana in New Jersey was shelved over a lack of support, Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday told a packed room in Union City that he will greatly expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana program.

Murphy said his administration will soon move ahead with expansion plans that would boost enrollment in the medical marijuana program to as many as 200,000 patients by increasing the number of cannabis growers and sellers far beyond the six operators that currently serve New Jersey’s 42,000 patients.

The Democratic governor made the declaration at a town hall meeting at a Union City elementary school, where hundreds of supporters packed the gymnasium and dozens more filled the hallway after the room reached max capacity.

“We’ll likely aggressively further open up the medical regime in the next day or two,” Murphy said, adding the number of people enrolled in the program “probably should be at 150,000 or 200,000.”

The governor fielded a question about opioid addiction and was pressed on the benefits of medical marijuana to help with recovery.

“It has proven to be an invaluable effort,” Murphy said.

Democratic leaders in the Senate have insisted the separate recreational weed bill and medical expansion bill be voted on together in order to corral more support for legalization.

But on Friday, Murphy, also a Democrat, told reporters he would not wait to add to the pool of medicinal cannabis businesses if recreational marijuana bill did not pass on Monday.

“We have put off (responding) to the enormous demand for medical marijuana. We have resisted granting more licenses,” the governor said.

He did not specify how many more licenses would be granted.

“It will be a significant number,” Murphy said. "It won’t be six. It will be many multiples of that.

Sources close to the negotiations told NJ Advance Media last week the administration said the number could be 30 to 50 separate licenses for growers, cultivators, wholesalers and retailers.

After the legal weed bill was pulled from consideration, Murphy told reporters Monday afternoon he expected to focus on expanding the medicinal market but said he was not ready to share the details yet.

Details could come as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday, Murphy said at the town hall meeting.

Expanding New Jersey’s medical marijuana program was billed as a sort of contingency plan if the push to get legal weed in the state stalled — which it did Monday morning after it was clear the state Senate didn’t have the votes to pass legislation.

The backup plan would not cover other parts of the medical marijuana bill designed to help patients, including allowing those enrolled in the program to buy more each month, and steps to make it easier to qualify for the program, two sources familiar with the plans told NJ Advance Media last week.

The plan would simply give patients more options when it comes to buying medical marijuana by making the market significantly larger, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

The state’s 42,000 medical marijuana patients, is more than twice the 18,000 patients when Murphy took office in January 2018.

The state Health Department’s move to add six additional dispensaries hit a legal snag after a handful of applicants who passed over the permits challenged the decision in court. Those appeals are pending.

Monday’s town hall meeting was Murphy’s first since he unveiled his second budget proposal at the beginning of the month.

He is expected to hold at least one about every three weeks until the July 1 budget deadline, Murphy officials said.