The bill legalizing medical marijuana, which was passed by the New Jersey Legislature, will go into effect six months after Gov. Jon Corzine signs it, as he promised to do before he leaves office Tuesday. New Jersey will become the 14th state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, and each state’s laws have their own idiosyncrasies. Until medical marijuana becomes legal here, the state Department of Health and Senior Services will face intense lobbying from advocacy groups as it outlines a wide range of rules, such as where marijuana can be grown in the state, how much it will cost and who gets to distribute the drug.
Here are a few things to know about medical marijuana:
How does a patient sign up for the program?
A physician must recommend a patient, who has to be a state resident. The state department of health will then issue an identification card, which would contain the name, address, date of birth and a photo of the bearer, as well as the name of a “primary caregiver” who has undergone a background check and is permitted to retrieve the drug on the patient’s behalf if necessary. The holder of the ID card cannot be prosecuted for possessing marijuana.
Where would the medical marijuana be dispensed?
The bill sets up a new type of pharmacy — called alternative treatment centers — and their sole purpose would be to produce and distribute medical marijuana. The first six must be nonprofits, with two in the state’s northern region, two in the southern and two in the central. After that, for-profit centers may also be allowed, with the Department of Health and Senior Services handling permits and licenses. All applicants to operate the centers must pass a criminal background check.
How will it be dispensed — as rolled cigarettes or in another form?
It’s not yet clear. The bill defines “usable marijuana” as “the dried leaves, and flowers of marijuana and any mixture thereof, and does not include seeds, stems, stalks or roots of the plant,” but the health department will likely issue specific guidelines. While some patients smoke the drug, others use it in food products, oils and vaporizers. Patients can receive up to 2 ounces of marijuana per month. A rolled cigarette usually holds 1 gram of marijuana. Two ounces would roughly equal 56 cigarettes.
Where is the medical marijuana grown?
Only the alternative treatment centers can produce the marijuana, and the state will issue guidelines about what level of security is required at the facilities.
What would the cost be?
An application fee will be levied, though it has not been set. As for the marijuana, the law states only that centers must charge “reasonable” prices to cover production costs. Prices vary widely in other states with an ounce going for between $100 and $150. Some dispensaries have discounts for low-income patients, while most states also allow patients to grow their own marijuana, an option prohibited in New Jersey.
How does this work with health insurance?
The bill does not require health insurance plans to cover medical marijuana, and most insurance companies do not include the option in other states.
What type of physician can write a recommendation?
The law states a person licensed to practice medicine and surgery and who has a bona fide physician-patient relationship can recommend medical marijuana for a patient. The state’s medical community remains conflicted about the law because the optimal dosage of marijuana remains unknown, and the quality of the drug may not be consistent in different batches.
What diseases will make a patient eligible to get medical marijuana?
Cancer, glaucoma, seizure disorders (including epilepsy), Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, severe muscle spasms, HIV/AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease (including Crohn’s disease), any terminal illness if a doctor has determined the patient will die within a year, or any other medical condition or treatment that is approved by the state health department.
Where can it be used?
The law doesn’t specifically say that people using marijuana are restricted to using it at home, but it sets clear restrictions on what patients under the influence cannot do. Patients cannot “operate, navigate or be in actual physical control of any vehicle, aircraft, railroad train, stationary heavy equipment or vessel while under the influence of marijuana.” Patients cannot smoke marijuana in “a school bus or other form of public transportation, in a private vehicle unless the vehicle is not in operation, on any school grounds, in any correctional facility, at any public park or beach, at any recreation center, or in any place where smoking is prohibited.”
Is there a minimum age limit for the medical marijuana to be used?
No. Minors may use medical marijuana, but parents must sign off first.
Can I be prosecuted if I sell my prescription to someone else or give it away?
Yes. The bill states it would be a third-degree crime, which carries a penalty of up to five years in state prison. Star Ledger.