After months of delays that exacerbated a marijuana supply shortagefor patients, New Jersey has now effectively doubled the size of its medical marijuana program.
The state Department of Health on Monday revealed the six medical marijuana dispensaries it picked to add to the program. If those six get up and running, New Jersey would have 12 dispensaries across the state.
Gov. Phil Murphy called for a large expansion of the medical marijuana program earlier this year and took some steps to immediately grow the program. These six will be the first new dispensaries added as part of that plan.
The Health Department, which oversees the medical marijuana program, received 146 applications for the six open slots. The department initially said it would announce the six new dispensaries in November, but officials, inundated with paperwork, had to delay the announcement.
“Six very strong applicants were selected, including minority-owned and women-owned businesses,” Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal said. “We will meet with them early next year to refine their timetable for growing product and opening their doors."
Before being allowed to grow medical marijuana, the six winners now must pass background checks, provide evidence of a dispensary location and municipal approval, and comply with all regulations under the Health Department, including safety and security requirements.
The expansion comes as New Jersey has added more than 20,000 medical marijuana patients this year, bringing the total to nearly 40,000. Murphy was able to increase the number of patients by allowing people with common conditions into the program, including anxiety and chronic pain, and reducing some of the burden on doctors who recommend cannabis to patients.
So who was awarded the new dispensaries and where are they going to be?
- NETA NJ, LLC was chosen to open a facility in Phillipsburg.
- GTI New Jersey, LLC was chosen to open a facility in Paterson.
- Verano NJ, LLC was chosen to open a grow facility in Rahway and a dispensary in Elizabeth.
- Justice Grown was chosen to open a facility in Ewing.
- MPX New Jersey was chosen to open a cultivation facility in Galloway and a dispensary in Atlantic City.
- Columbia Care New Jersey was chosen to open a facility in Vineland.
If they get final approval from the Health Department, those six dispensaries will join the facilities in Bellmawr, Cranbury, Egg Harbor Township, Montclair, Secaucus and Woodbridge. Like the current six, these new entities will all grow, process and sell medical marijuana.
Since Murphy took steps to add more patients to the program earlier this year, there has been a drumbeat of complaints about long lines at dispensaries and shortages in certain strains of cannabis. The state’s hope is that these six new facilities can ease some of those headaches.
This expansion could be a prologue to even more growth to the medical marijuana program in 2019. Under rules proposed earlier this summer, the Department of Health would be able issue licenses to medical marijuana providers who could grow, process or sell marijuana, rather than be required to do all three. Those rules were expected to be adopted this fall, but the delay in picking the new alternative treatment centers also pushed those rules back.
Assistant Health Commissioner Jeff Brown said he expects the rules to be adopted in the coming weeks, increasing the likelihood that more medical marijuana licenses could be issued next year.
The state Legislature is also considering a medical marijuana expansion bill — alongside the marijuana legalization bill — that has more provisions to help patients, including adding another six dispensaries, allowing patients to buy more cannabis at one time and allowing more medical professionals to recommend marijuana to patients.
That bill’s fate is tied to the legalization bill, and lawmakers aren’t expected to take action on those pieces of legislation until next year.
In the meantime, the six dispensaries announced on Monday will be working to get up and running. Considering it takes a few months to grow marijuana, the medical marijuana supply crunch in New Jersey will likely go on until the spring of 2019.
"We are committed to an equitable expansion of supply to meet growing patient demand, and these new locations will reach patients that currently have to travel longer distances to obtain the therapy,” Elnahal said.