To address the high cost of medical pot, NJ programs could cover it

TRENTON — In addition to studying delays in approving recreational sales of adult-use marijuana, which could be resolved before it meets, a special legislative committee is also expected to examine ways to reduce the costs of medical marijuana.

The Senate Health Committee recently addressed this issue by passing – for the second year in a row – a bill that would allow reimbursement of medical marijuana costs by four state programs, including elderly and disabled people. program.

Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, said insurance companies aren’t allowed to cover medical marijuana because the therapies aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration. His bill would allow coverage by PAAD, Senior Gold, the Catastrophic Childhood Illness Relief Fund and the Board of Compensation for Victims of Crime.

“We all know the cost of medical cannabis is high and for some it’s out of reach,” Vitale said.

Vitale said a separate bill that will be picked up later would allow coverage through the state health benefits program, school employee health benefits program and workers’ compensation. .

Michael Brennan of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey said he believes New Jersey’s medical marijuana program would have more than 130,000 patients in a state of 9.3 million if the costs weren’t up. so prohibitive.

“For many, they don’t even bother to apply or, as with overregulation so many times, it forces people looking for relief to turn to the black market,” Brennan said. “Overregulation always, never fails to keep the black market healthy.”

Ed Hannaman, attorney and board member of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, said marijuana has been used safely by people for more than 4,000 years.

“We got over the medical side, but right now we’re on the financial side,” Hannaman said. “As you hear patients, that’s the most crucial part now is letting people afford drugs. Without affordable prices, there are no drugs.

Mark Bolton, head of global public policy and senior legal counsel at Greenwich Biosciences, opposed the bill. His company is developing cannabinoid-derived drugs that can gain FDA approval after trials and says the level of caution and rigor won’t be followed if states cover all medical marijuana.

“It is a significant political risk for the state to take money from these programs to pay for cannabis products when the standard of care, evidence of safety and efficacy, and quality controls are lacking. “Bolton said. “And with that, the health outcomes are so uncertain.”

Bolton said New Jersey programs that would begin covering the costs of medical marijuana have limited budgets and funding could be moved that would otherwise be used for other purposes. He said the costs for one medical marijuana patient were equivalent to the expenses for drug coverage for 12 patients in PAAD and 35 patients in Senior Gold.

“As a result, funding for essential services such as palliative care, wheelchair access, prescription drugs may be inhibited by cannabis reimbursement,” he said. “And that move could be significant.”

The bill, S313, moved forward unanimously but not without some concerns. His advancement also takes him to where he stalled in 2021, pending a hearing before the Senate Budget Committee.

“I think there are risks in demanding reimbursement for a product that has not been approved by the FDA,” said Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth. “I think my homegrown legislation would have solved a lot of that problem, both medically and recreationally, if the state ever got around to it.”

The right to grow a small number of marijuana plants at home is something advocates have sought for more than a dozen years.

“Why is it okay for a 21-year-old to grow cannabis for profit, but a cancer patient getting five years in prison for doing the exact same thing?” said Edward “Lefty” Grimes, director of the Sativa Cross activist group.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse Bureau Chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

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