By Eli McVey
New Jersey’s medical marijuana industry posted a banner year in 2016, with patient counts ballooning 76% and sales volume doubling thanks to a series of small changes to the state’s MMJ program and the opening of two new dispensaries.
This is welcome news for a program that has struggled to enroll patients amid high MMJ prices, weak doctor participation and limited access to treatment centers.
Over the course of 2016, New Jersey added roughly 4,600 patients to the MMJ program, ending the year at nearly 11,000. Sales of MMJ jumped by an even greater degree, as the state’s five dispensaries sold a combined 2,694 pounds of cannabis in 2016, a 119% increase from the previous year.
Two of those five dispensaries – Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center in Cranbury and Compassionate Sciences Alternative Treatment Center in Bellmawr– came online in late 2015. The addition of these dispensaries is responsible for much of the growth in sales but is likely driving patient counts as well.
Compassionate Sciences, for example, opened in September 2015 in western New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia. The dispensary is located in an area of the state not covered by the other four dispensaries, and it ended 2016 with significantly more MMJ sales than all its competitors.
Foundation Harmony, the sixth and final dispensary to be awarded a license, is still undergoing examination from the state before being allowed to open.
These two new dispensaries also added some much-needed competition to the market, lowering MMJ prices in the state to about $300 per ounce, down from highs of nearly $500 per ounce.
New Jersey prices were previously some of the highest of any MMJ market in the nation and likely prevented many would-be patients from seeking an MMJ recommendation. State data shows that 45% of registered patients qualified for and received a reduced application fee. The discount is given to patients who receive some form of government assistance, including – but not limited to – Medicaid and disability benefits.
Beyond the addition of new dispensaries, the state has also made changes to the MMJ program that should further boost patient counts.
Despite his misgivings, Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation adding PTSD to the list of qualifying MMJ conditions last September. By the end of the year, nearly 500 patients with PTSD qualified for the program, accounting for approximately 4% of all MMJ patients in the state.
In July, New Jersey’s health department instituted a program that allows the public to petition to have ailments added to the list of qualifying MMJ conditions. According to the Department of Health, 45 conditions met the program’s guidelines and were passed on to the Medicinal Medical Review Panel. The panel will hold meetings throughout 2017 to consider those petitions.
The program still faces challenges, however, as industry observers believe it still needs more licensed physicians willing to recommend marijuana, while restrictions on the types of MMJ products allowed to be sold may lead potential patients to the black market.
Eli McVey can be reached at [email protected]