The Murphy administration Monday announced plans to approve more than 100 additional medical marijuana businesses in the state, a rapid expansion that may go beyond what the Legislature envisions in legislation one vote from reaching Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.

The state Department of Health said it is seeking to approve up to 24 additional cultivators, up to 30 more manufacturers and up to 54 more dispensaries. Until now, a license holder had to handle all three steps. There are six currently operating, with another six selected but not yet licensed.

“We are at a point where patients just cannot wait any longer for easily accessible, affordable therapy. This request for applications allows for specialization of businesses to increase medical product in our state,” said Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal.

The 24 additional cultivators, on top of the 12 already approved, seems to go beyond the 23 cultivator permits allowed during the next 18 months by a medical marijuana bill that’s likely to reach Murphy’s desk on June 10, once the Assembly concurs with changes the Senate made to the bill.

However, the request for applications says 15 of the additional 24 cultivator permits would be for operations of 5,000 square feet or less. The pending bill exempts ‘microbusinesses’ from the limit on cultivator sites, though defines those as being 2,500 square feet or less.

Murphy, at an unrelated event in Hackensack, said the announcement doesn’t necessarily conflict with the pending bill but declined to speak about the legislation in any detail.

“The demand on behalf of patients has been overwhelming, and we just frankly can’t hold off any longer. That’s not necessarily either/or. It’s not at odds necessarily – again, I don’t want to get into the specifics of the legislation,” Murphy said. “So there’s no magic to the timing, other than most people are saying, ‘Why didn’t you do this earlier?’”

The pending bill also shifts management of the medical marijuana program from the Department of Health to a new Cannabis Regulatory Commission, an idea developed as part of the now-delayed push to legalize and regulate adult-use recreational marijuana in the state.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said that "once again, the governor is ignoring the hard work of the Legislature and the agreement" reached on the issue.

“Now the governor wants to preempt what is a thoughtful plan to expand medical marijuana in an effective and responsible way. This immediate and uncontrolled expansion could be destructive to what is a newly-expanding marketplace," Sweeney said.

"The governor shouldn’t be ignoring what is a good plan and he shouldn’t be ignoring the agreement he has with the Legislature. That’s a bad practice and is becoming a bad habit of his," he said.

The Health Department said 38 of the additional alternative treatment centers, or ATCs, would be in North Jersey, 38 in Central Jersey and 32 in South Jersey. (The central region is defined as Hunterdon, Middlesex, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset and Union counties.)

Cultivation and manufacturing permit endorsements would be split evenly among North, Central and South Jersey. There would be 20 dispensary endorsements for North and Central Jersey and 14 for South Jersey. But with Ocean County part of the southern region, some of those could be sited fairly far south.

Elnahal said the proposals allows for three sizes of cultivation endorsements – at 5,000, 20,000 and 30,000 square feet – to give small- and medium-sized businesses a better opportunity to participate.

The medical marijuana program now has 47,500 registered patients, up by 30,000 since March 2018, when chronic pain, anxiety, migraine and Tourette’s syndrome were added to the list of conditions that qualify a patient for medical marijuana. Opioid use disorder was also added in January.

Medical marijuana dispensaries currently operate in Bellmawr, Cranbury, Egg Harbor, Montclair, Secaucus and Woodbridge. Locations in Atlantic City, Elizabeth, Ewing, Paterson, Phillipsburg and Vineland got initial approvals in December but haven’t yet finalized their licenses.

In a biennial report issued April 1, the Department of Health projected a need for 24 to 50 cultivation sites and 50 to 90 dispensaries.

Applications are due by Aug. 15. The timeframe for announcing awards depends on how many applications are submitted.

Last year, the state received 146 applications for six licenses.


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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com