Thursday, November 24, 2011
NJ DHSS adopts rules for Medicinal Marijuana Program
The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) announced on its web site this week (http://www.state.nj.us/health/medicalmarijuana/) that it has filed a Notice of Adoption with the Office of Administrative Law. What this means is that the DHSS has formally responded to all of the public comments it has received about its proposed Medicinal Marijuana Program and it has submitted the final, adopted rules to the New Jersey Register for publication.
Unfortunately for patients, physicians, caregivers, ATC operators, family members and medical marijuana advocates, the DHSS has decided not to change a single thing in its 100 plus pages of rules that have been the subject of much criticism and impassioned public comment. The proposed rules will be adopted virtually unchanged. Read it and weep: http://www.state.nj.us/health/medicalmarijuana/documents/medical_marijuana_proposal.pdf
The 10% cap on THC potency, the limit of 3 strains of marijuana that will be available, the physician registry, and the micromanagement of ATCs including the arbitrary zoning requirements will all stay in the final version of the adopted rules.
The only changes in the rules were in a seperate proposal from the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners. To their credit, the BME was responsive to one criticism and they dropped the requirement that doctors had to periodically wean their patients off marijuana. The BME also said that the marijuana education requirements for physicians were under review. It is hoped that the new education requirements will have something to do with the Endocannabinoid System, that is, how marijuana actually works in the human body.
The DHSS says that it is "committed to the effective implementation of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to make medicinal marijuana available as soon as possible, while ensuring the integrity of the program." If that is the case, they are certainly going about it the wrong way.
Marijuana experts have been completely excluded from meaningful participation in the development of this program. No wonder the DHSS had problems. It was like trying to build a bridge without using bridge engineers.
The Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey has already despaired of seeing any kind of meaningful Medicinal Marijuana Program during the Christie administration. The DHSS rules are designed to provide poor quality marijuana to very few patients at very high cost--if the program ever gets working at all. The physician registry has dissuaded all but 1% of New Jersey licensed physicians from participating in the program. The zoning rules imposed by DHSS have caused outrage in local communities when ATCs or their greenhouses attempt to locate there.
The unresponsiveness of the DHSS to the public comments and to the welfare of patients is a disgrace. It remains to be seen whether the legislature will act to save its own law which passed nearly two years ago, but has yet to see a single patient legally protected. The legislature has already agreed that the proposed rules from the DHSS were inconsistent with the legislative intent of the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. The legislature gave the DHSS adequate time and good faith to amend these rules. The DHSS has failed to do so. Now, the legislature must complete its work and invalidate these rules.