State Assembly passes bill expanding medical marijuana program

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The New Jersey General Assembly passed a bill to expand the state's medical marijuana program.

The Assembly voted 65-5 with six abstentions Thursday, sending the bill to the state Senate.

The bill doubles the size of the current medical marijuana program. It also allows the state to solicit new requests for licensed providers who can actually grow marijuana, as well as for the people who can sell it.

It also phases out the current sales tax on medical marijuana by the first day of 2025, and allows medical marijuana home delivery. Dispensaries can also set up consumption lounges where patients can buy and use medical cannabis on the premises.

The measure will set up a five-person commission to oversee the program. Currently, it's overseen by the state Health Department.

The legislation also makes it easier for patients to access cannabis. Under current law, only doctors can authorize the drug, but the measure permits physician assistants and some nurses to authorize its use.

RELATED: O’Scanlon: New Jersey’s medical marijuana program needs expanding 

Prior to the vote, Democratic Assemblyman Joe Danielsen of Somerset presented an emotional story about the impact of medical marijuana for sick children.

“It’s a sad memory I have in my mind hearing the words from little Gabby Fernandez from Perth Amboy, screaming down the halls of the Cancer Institute for Children in New Brunswick, asking God please make it stop,” Danielsen said.

The assemblyman continued, “It’s a 5-year-old girl. And soon after the doctors ran in, she silenced into a chemical coma, induced by the opioid drugs. It was a sad funeral I had to attend. But I did so in her honor - I made that girl a commitment and that girl’s family - that we will move the science using marijuana and cannabis compounds…while creating jobs.”

The measure comes after lawmakers failed to get enough votes in March for a measure legalizing recreational marijuana.

It was thought that the Assembly would vote on bills regarding marijuana decriminalization and expungement, but those bills were tabled for the time being. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said that he still wants to coordinate with his colleagues in the Assembly, as well as with Senate President Steve Sweeney.

The medical marijuana bill is expected to easily pass the state Senate and then be signed by Gov. Phil Murphy.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.

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