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Health officials expect surge in medical marijuana patients

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Senate Budget Committee heard testimony from officials in the state Department of Health on Tuesday.
Senate Budget Committee heard testimony from officials in the state Department of Health on Tuesday. - ()

The number of New Jersey residents receiving medical marijuana could more than double in the next year to as many as 50,000 patients, health officials said Tuesday.

The announcement was part of a budget presentation laid out by Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal, in testimony to the Senate Budget Committee.

Currently, more than 21,000 patients receive medical marijuana, while 600 physicians and 900 caregivers participate in the program, Elnahal said in his testimony to lawmakers. Some 5,000 patients enrolled in the program since Gov. Phil Murphy took office in January.

In March, the Murphy administration proposed that patients qualify for medical marijuana if diagnosed in five additional areas: anxiety, migraines, Tourette's syndrome, chronic visceral pain or chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders.

“As a physician, I have spoken to patients who have described how medical marijuana relieved their pain and reduce their reliance on opioids,” the health commissioner said. “In states with marijuana program, there have been 3.7 million fewer daily doses of opioid prescriptions filled, and an almost 6 percent decrease in opioid prescribing.”

The health department is also looking at how to roll out a series of 20 short- and long-term recommendations on how to reform the medicinal marijuana industry, which included the five new medical categories.

Unveiled in March, the proposals will look at easing restrictions on who can operate a dispensary, or alternate treatment center; increasing the limit for how much marijuana a patient can purchase in a month; and eliminating the 6.6 percent sales tax on the drug. The state already reduced the biennial patient registration fee from $200 to $100 for veterans and seniors 65 and older.

“We’ve reduced patient and caregiver registration fees, allowed dispensaries to submit waivers to add satellite locations and added mobile access so that patients, caregiver and physicians can register, make payments and upload documents on their smartphones and tablets,” Elnahal said.

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Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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