NJ is making medical marijuana registration free — for the shrinking group that wants it

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By Dan Sears

New Jersey is making it free to sign up for its medical marijuana program, following a drop in enrollment.

The Garden State is eliminating signup fees for people who register online for a new digital patient card. Anyone who still wants a physical medical marijuana card will have to pay just $10 every two years, down from the previous $50 fee, according to an announcement this week from the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

New Jersey follows in the footsteps of New York, which waived its $50 medical marijuana fee in 2022.

Patient advocates say reducing fees is a step in the right direction but that more can be done to make cannabis affordable for New Jerseyans who use it medicinally, as insurance generally doesn’t cover the drug.

New Jersey has added some perks for medical card holders since legalizing cannabis for recreational use in February 2021. Medical users are exempt from the state sales tax and have patient-only hours at dispensaries, some of which offer them special discounts.

But enrollment in New Jersey’s medical program has declined 12% since January 2021, just before marijuana was legalized for those over 21. There are now 88,670 people enrolled in the program, according to state data. New Jersey first legalized marijuana for medical use in 2010.

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While full legalization may seem to negate the need for medical marijuana, advocates say these programs can help generate discounts for participants and enable people to access certain types of cannabis products more consistently. The programs also encourage discussions about cannabis use between patients and doctors, according to supporters.

Peter Rosenfeld said he got his New Jersey medical marijuana card shortly after the program launched so he could deal with spasticity, or rigid muscles, after a spinal injury. But he added that there’s little advantage to the medicinal program since recreational marijuana became legal, especially since medical and recreational customers shop at the same stores.

“It’s not really worth the hassle for a lot of people,” said Rosenfeld, who sits on the board of the nonprofit Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. “If things continue the way they are now, the medical program, like in a lot of states, will shrink.”

Rosenfeld said state regulators should take additional steps to keep the medicinal program alive so it can make cannabis more affordable for those who use it to treat pain and other health issues. He and other advocates are currently pushing for New Jersey to follow New York in allowing medical patients to grow marijuana at home. New York allowed home cultivation for medical users in 2022 and is now working on similar regulations for everyone over 21.

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has signaled he would be open to allowing home-grow marijuana in the Garden State. A bill to do so never made it out of committee in the state’s last legislative session.

State lawmakers have also introduced legislation requiring workers’ compensation programs to cover marijuana in some circumstances and creating a program to subsidize the cost of cannabis for qualifying patients enrolled in certain public benefits.

The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission has worked to prioritize patients, said Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. He said one of the biggest remaining costs is the fee some doctors charge to get a recommendation for medical marijuana, which is a requirement to join the program.

“It can be $150, $200 for a visit,” Wolski said.

The commission has not responded to a request for comment on Friday about the elimination of fees and its efforts to preserve the medical program.

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