The cannabis clock is ticking in New Jersey. Time is running out to apply for one of the six new medical marijuana shops in the state.
The New Jersey Health Department received a total of 146 applications from 106 organizations hoping to sell medical marijuana products to the more than 30,000 people authorized to take cannabis-products for medical ailments in the state. The application window closed last Friday.
As evidenced by the number of applicants for the new dispensaries, the medical marijuana business has flourished under Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. Since his inauguration in January, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries has more than doubled. The state initially had five dispensaries with roughly 15,000 patients enrolled in the medical marijuana program, which began in 2010.
[Read More: Lawmakers introduce bill renewing push to legalize medical marijuana for military veterans]
New Jersey currently has six dispensaries, not including the recently approved dispensaries, called alternative treatment centers. The new alternative treatment centers are scheduled to open by the end of this year.
“By expanding alternative treatment center locations in New Jersey, we are putting patients first and ensuring more convenient access to medical marijuana,” Gov. Murphy said in a statement released by his office. “This is another step forward in removing barriers put in place by the previous administration and creating a more consumer-friendly program.”
The 2010 law authorizing medical marijuana in New Jersey required that medical marijuana dispensaries in the state operate as non-profit organizations. These restrictions will not apply to the new dispensaries; however, there are still strict compliance regulations which the new centers must follow.
The organizations selected for the new alternative treatment centers must grow and cultivate their own marijuana, provide evidence of site control, and receive approval from the local city or county council. The Health Department also requires applicants to provide a business plan with anticipated revenue for the next five years.
Additionally, the organizations currently operating dispensaries were not eligible to apply for new alternative treatment centers. According to the governor’s office, these organizations have had the opportunity to add additional cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensing sites, and will have the chance to expand in the future.
New Jersey’s growing pro-cannabis crowd
Earlier this year, the Health Department added five new categories of conditions to be eligible to participate in the medical marijuana program. These new categories include anxiety, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, chronic pain of visceral origin, migraines, and Tourette’s Syndrome.
Patients interested in medical marijuana must receive physician-certification and register with the Health Department. While there is a $100 registration fee, a reduced $20 fee is available for veterans, seniors, and individuals receiving government assistance.
[Read More: U.S. Senate Grants Veterans the Right To Use Medical Marijuana]
This loosening of restrictions on access to medical marijuana shows a growing pro-pot trend from lawmakers and medical professionals alike in the state. Even the Health Commissioner is advocating for greater access to cannabis.
“Program Participation has surpassed 30,000 individuals as a result of reforms already made, and we expect the number to keep growing,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal in a statement. “We need more alternative treatment centers to keep pace with the demand for a therapy that has been unjustly restricted for so long.”
Four bills attempting to legalize marijuana were introduced in the New Jersey state legislature; however, none of the bills made it to the governor’s desk. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Sen. Nicholas Scutari, co-authors of previously failed cannabis legislation, introduced a new bill covering cannabis issues which they hope will reach the floor for a final vote by the end of this month.
Does this increase in the number of dispensaries and an uptick in political popularity mean that New Jersey will be the ninth state to legalize recreational marijuana use? Probably not this legislative session. At least medical-marijuana patients in New Jersey will have more alternative treatment center options come this winter, and hopefully, the lines won’t be too long.