New Jersey’s medical marijuana program expansion plan advances

After failing to approve recreational marijuana sales, New Jersey will now greatly expand its medical marijuana program.

(Brennan Linsley/AP Photo)

(Brennan Linsley/AP Photo)

A bill to greatly expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana program cleared the state Senate Thursday. It now heads to the full Assembly for a vote.

The proposal would increase the maximum number of medical marijuana dispensaries, allow patients to buy larger quantities of the drug, and slowly phase out the sales tax on medical cannabis.

Although the bill passed easily, some lawmakers still raised doubts about the state’s medical marijuana program, which has been growing rapidly under Gov. Phil Murphy.

“How dare we use the term medical — when it is — and charge poor people and working people and families sales tax on something that helps them feel better? It is outrageous,” said Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean.

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The measure would phase out the current 6.625% sales tax on medical marijuana by the year 2025.

The expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program comes after Gov. Murphy and top Democrats failed to rally enough support to legalize recreational marijuana in the Legislature.

Yet some lawmakers said simply expanding the state’s medical marijuana program instead falls short for many residents.

“So many of my constituents will not be able to avail themselves of this medical marijuana because it is cost prohibitive for so many of the lower-income people, the indigent, who have suffered with great pain too,” said Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer.

State Sen. President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said it is possible that voters would decide the question of legalizing recreational marijuana in a 2020 ballot question.

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