Photo Credit: JOHN KARCZMIT
The review process for the applications for the six new Alternative Treatment Centers is “moving as quickly as possible,” Jeff Brown, the director of the Division of Medicinal Marijuana told the attendees of the inaugural NJ Cannabis Summit.
The Department of Health had originally planned to announce the new licensees on Nov. 1, but the number of applications – 146 – has caused a delay.
“It takes times to get it right. We don’t have a specific date but we are moving as quickly as possible to wrap up the process because we know as the medicinal program continues to expand six additional licenses isn’t enough,” Brown said during a presentation that included remarks and questions from the more than 300 attendees of the event hosted by NJ Cannabis Media Oct. 24 at Forsgate Country Club in Monroe.
The assistant health commissioner said that each member of the selection committee is reading “upwards of 800 pages a day” of the more than 40,000 pages that were submitted by the 146 applicants.
In addition to the six new licenses, Brown provided an update on the status of Governor Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 6, which was looking at fixing barriers to patients and the industry.
The public comment portion has been closed and the department is in the process of responding to those comments. “Hopefully we can get those finalized in short order,” Brown said.
The changes are needed as the program continues to grow by 100 patients a day and has doubled from 17,000 patients to more than 34,000 since Murphy took office in January.
Brown highlighted the changes that have already been made:
- Reducing fees
- Adding qualifying conditions
- Making it easier for physicians to enroll
- Providing mobile access to patients
The largest patient population growth has been in the 65-and-over population. Brown attributes that rise to the addition of chronic conditions that older people are more likely to be afflicted with.
The Department of Health has proposed streamlining the process to add new conditions, enabling the commissioner and the program head to be able to move quickly when medical research demonstrates new possibilities for medical cannabis.
Several of the key changes the department wants to make require legislative fixes, Brown told the audience, especially changing the current law that requires patients to be re-certified by a physician every 90 days.
Citing the example of a patient with HIV/AIDS, Brown said, that patient shouldn’t have to go back that often so the doctor can confirm he still has HIV/AIDS. The desire is to make it an annual visit.
The department also wants to make edibles available to all patients, not just children, as well as raising the limits on monthly purchase amounts, including waiving the limits for those who are terminally ill.
On the business side, Brown talked about the desire to streamline the vetting process for those who work in the industry. The current model, based on what’s required to be in the gaming industry, can be onerous. “We want it to get it right and do the due diligence, but we’re able to move relatively quicker with it,” he said.
Brown is pleased with the recent decision to allow ATCs to post prices on their websites and social media.
“It gives patients the info they need and we’ve heard from operators that it has reduced the burden on them so they don’t have to field phone calls all day asking about prices,” he said.
The intention is to issue more Requests for Applications for additional dispensaries, grow and manufacturing facilities once the six new ATC licenses are awarded, but Brown could not provide a timeline for when that would occur.
Legislative action could have an impact on future plans, but Brown said the “intention is to move quickly.”
In regards to a question about home grow, Brown said that would require legislative change. He did state that the department would like to add home delivery as a means of improving access for patients in the interim.