When Gov. Phil Murphy announced plans to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, he promised that, “the days of making residents jump through hoops are coming to an end.” That was encouraging news from New Jersey's new chief executive, but months later, thousands of patients are still waiting. And now, with more than 23,000 patients enrolled in the state’s program and the introduction of adult-use cannabis legislation delaying expansion, something has to change to make that important promise a reality.
Since announcing plans to expand the medical program back in March, more than 100 patients a day have signed up. But according to Dr. David Nathan of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, new patients may have to wait weeks, if not months, to get relief. And with a wave of new demands hitting New Jersey’s limited medical dispensaries, supply shortages are becoming a concern. As a result, patients are forced toward the black market as their only hope. When they don’t have sufficient legal access to medical cannabis, they ask “a friend of a friend” for help. And when patients are pushed toward the illegal market, the state and its residents suffer.
New Jersey’s inaugural medical cannabis program, passed in 2010, authorized only six medical dispensaries. Under more enlightened plans, that number can significantly increase to meet patient need. But the process of approving each dispensary, plus the additional months needed to set up retailers, ensure they meet regulations, and start sales takes time. A long time. As a matter of fact, the last medical cannabis dispensary allowed by the initial program opened its doors a few weeks ago … nearly seven years after receiving approval from the state.
Sick people do not have seven years, let alone seven days, to wait for medicine.
That is why cannabis delivery services should be allowed to operate within New Jersey. Delivery services take little time to set up after receiving approval. And if regulated like dispensaries, can effectively offer patients a reliable and safe method for obtaining medicine. Delivery services also have less overhead, so providers can pass that savings on to patients in the form of lower prices.
Delivery services are often misunderstood, and many people have a preconceived —and wrong — perception of them. We’re not talking about a pot dealer on a bicycle, selling door-to-door. Modern, sophisticated services operate out of a brick-and-mortar business location and observe the same health and safety rules as dispensaries do. They pay taxes, employ professionals, practice stringent safety protocols to protect patients and drivers, and test their products for purity and potency. They are also important because exposure as a medical cannabis patient could result in the loss of employment or housing. The privacy that delivery services offers is vital.
I know from my own practice that delivery services are essential for patients. Those who are too ill to travel are able to receive their medicine in the privacy of their homes. And those with mobility issues, or who have limited transportation options also benefit from home delivery. In localities that have no walk-in dispensaries, delivery services ensure that the most vulnerable of patients, the terminally ill, have access to their medicine.
Cannabis delivery services can play a critical role in delivering better health for countless patients in the Garden State.