Murphy’s medical cannabis expansion plans helping or hurting marijuana legalization effort in the Garden State?

Unless you have been living under a rock, New Jersey failed to pass the highly publicized adult-use cannabis legislation in March 2019.  Immediately after the bill was pulled from the floor for a vote, Governor Murphy pledged to expand the state’s medical marijuana program if the recreational law is not passed by the end of next month.   Not surprisingly, this announcement, which Murphy made again publicly on Monday, rubbed top democratic leaders the wrong way who view the proclamation as hurting the legalization effort.     

On April 1, 2019, New Jersey’s Department of Health released its biennial report analyzing the state’s nine-year-old medical marijuana program.  According to the report, New Jersey’s medical cannabis industry generated $53.4 million last year, nearly doubling the revenue from 2017.  The report also recommends that the state add at least 18 cultivators and 44 more dispensaries to keep up with growing demand.   The report further found that patients rarely buy the two-ounce maximum amount of cannabis the current law allows because of the astronomical cost.   The state’s six alternative treatment centers also have to budget sales in order to preserve their limited supply of product.    

In sum, the report concludes that the medical cannabis program does not reliably serve the 44,000 registered patients who rely on cannabis to address their pain, reduce muscle spasms, treat seizures and reduce their reliance on opioid drugs.  The health department’s report also states that the program could serve about 180,000 patients by January 2022 if the medical marijuana expansion bill (A10) passes. 

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney has been the most vocal critic of Murphy’s announcement stating publically that the Senate will be unable to whip enough votes to pass the adult use law if they are given an out by the Governor to vote separately for medical expansion.  Sweeney believes that using executive action to expand the state’s medical cannabis program is a backdoor to adult use, a tactic that was used in California.     It will be interesting to see if the medical bill will be decoupled from the adult use bill if the vote is delayed again in May. 

Murphy and top lawmakers are also dealing with another issue holding up cannabis legalization: a provision in the law that would expunge records of people convicted of possessing up to 5 pounds of marijuana.  According to, lawmakers believe that 5 pounds is too much, but altering this provision could cause other legislators to vote no on the bill.   Regardless of what happens, those wanting to enter the cannabis industry in New Jersey need to be ready to act on a moment’s notice with the impending legalization of adult use cannabis and possible medical expansion if they want to have a shot at winning a license. 

We will continue to provide updates on this issue as more things develop. 

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