By David Knowlton, CERI Board Member / NJ.com
The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission has adopted the first rules to oversee the cultivation and sale of cannabis for personal use. The new rules say Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs) can sell to the recreational market — but must preserve enough marijuana for their medicinal patients.
The lengthy regulations sound great on paper. But at the Cannabis Education and Research Institute (CERI) we believe these vague rules will do little to protect patients. We fear thousands of medicinal marijuana patients — people with cancer, MS, and other debilitating conditions — won’t get the medication they need when the sale of recreational cannabis begins.
The root of the problem is simple: there is not currently enough marijuana grown in New Jersey to supply both the medicinal and recreational market. State officials have acknowledged the shortfall in reports and public statements. There often isn’t enough marijuana right now to provide cannabis to all the state’s medicinal patients; the problem will only worsen when recreational sales start.
How can regulations protect patients when the amount of canopy available is insufficient — and you know it’s insufficient?
CERI is calling on the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to publicly release updated data on current inventory, including total square footage of permitted marijuana cultivation space, as well as current utilization in the medicinal market. Additionally, the state should release its projections of demand for adult-use recreational marijuana.
The most recent Biennial Report by the state Department of Health, Division of Medicinal Marijuana, examined supply and demand in 2017-2018 when there were 44,000 patients enrolled in the Medicinal Marijuana Program. That report showed that individual ATCs were struggling to keep pace with the growing patient population. Now there are more than 100,000 patients and we have not seen a commensurate growth to the cannabis supply.
At CERI, our mission is to advance unbiased medical research and credible information about medicinal cannabis. A nonprofit organization, we also advocate for patient access to medicinal marijuana.
That’s why we’re now calling on the state to make these changes:
Provide public data. The state Department of Health, Division on Medicinal Marijuana, should publicly release updated data on current cultivation, supply, demand, and projected demand when recreational sales being. The State needs to release the overdue, updated biennial report as required by law.
Allow additional businesses and grow space. The state must allow existing companies to expand their cannabis grow. New Jersey also needs to allow new companies to enter New Jersey’s market and allow them to cultivate and process marijuana sufficient to supply current and anticipated demand before allowing recreational sales.
Create policies that allow interstate transport of medicinal marijuana, if New Jersey cannot adequately supply enough marijuana for medicinal and recreational markets. CERI supports local production and local standards of cannabis in New Jersey and wants to see the market expand. However, if the market cannot meet the needs locally, CERI, an advocate for medicinal patients, would consider advocating federally for the legal transport of marijuana through and to states where medicinal marijuana is legal and where such transport would not cross a state where marijuana remains illegal.
Put patients first. New Jersey must create policies so that patients suffering with debilitating conditions, and who find relief with cannabis, will be clearly prioritized when the market opens to recreational buyers. These policies must be more robust than merely requiring that patients in the queue at a given time be served first. Regulations should require dispensaries to maintain sufficient stock of medical cannabis to serve their historic and projected patient load before permitting recreational sales.
The number of debilitating conditions qualifying for the medicinal marijuana program increased to 17. Conditions include Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, Tourette Syndrome, Inflammatory bowel disease, epilepsy, PTSD and others.
We appreciate the challenges of supplying patients in addition to the recreational market — and we understand the pressure on the state to allow recreational cannabis to go on sale. But before the door is opened to recreational users, our state regulators must first show exactly how patients, many of them seriously ill, will be able to get a medicine they need.
David Knowlton is the chairman and CEO of the Cannabis Education and Research Institute, a non-profit organization based in Pennington. CERI’s goal is to advance the accessibility of medicinal cannabis through unbiased, evidence-based research provided to consumers, clinicians, payors, and policymakers so they can make informed decisions about cannabis.