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New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Bill Providing Medical Marijuana Patient Insurance Benefits

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Employment insurance benefits would be extended to cover the costs of medical marijuana for registered patients in New Jersey under a bill that cleared an Assembly committee on Monday.

While medical cannabis has been legal in New Jersey since 2010, nothing in current state statute currently stipulates that costs associated with the medication must be covered via workers’ compensation or personal injury protection (PIP). That would change under legislation sponsored by Assemblymembers John Burzichelli (D), Herb Conaway (D) and Joann Downey (D).

“Many workers’ compensation insurance companies and PIPs are still hesitant to cover medical cannabis or have an outright policy of denying it,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. “People injured and receiving coverage through PIP or worker’s comp can come away from a doctor’s appointment with a prescription for medical marijuana; however, it is not definite that their healthcare plan will cover it or reimburse them for the costs.”

“The dispensing of medical cannabis is, in part, considered an important piece in the national effort to combat the opioid crisis. Medical cannabis is seen as an effective pain treatment option that is cheaper, less addictive than opioids, and often preferred to prescribe to patients over opioids. A patient and their doctor should have every option available to make the best decisions for their care; and, medical cannabis as an option growing in demand, health insurance plans—including worker’s comp and PIP—should cover its costs too.”

The bill advanced through the Assembly Appropriations Committee in a 7-4 vote.

Text of the legislation states that “an employer or workers’ compensation insurance carrier or private passenger automobile insurance carrier shall provide coverage for costs associated with the medical use of marijuana.”

In another workplace cannabis development in New Jersey earlier this year, a former Amazon warehouse worker and medical marijuana patient who was fired over a positive THC test secured a procedural victory by a federal judge in April. The court granted his request for a motion to remand, kicking his case to the state Superior Court for consideration—rather than a federal U.S. District Court—where he stands a better chance of prevailing.

The passage of the reform bill in the Assembly committee comes one week before New Jersey residents are set to vote on a referendum to legalize cannabis for adult use. A committee was set to hold a public hearing on the measure last week, but it was cancelled shortly after being announced.

Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), who chairs that panel and previously introduced a legalization bill that did not advance to a floor vote, said earlier this month that he’s been working in recent weeks with the governor’s office and legislative leaders to finalize a detailed enabling bill to implement legal market regulations.

He said the measure, which could be passed as soon as the first week of November, would look similar to a bill he previously introduced, though he wants to add a retroactive provision to end cannabis-related prosecutions for pending cases.

If polling is any indication, it appears that voters are poised to pass the cannabis referendum on their ballots next month.

A survey released last week found that that 65 percent of New Jersey voters are in favor of the marijuana referendum. Just 29 percent are opposed to the policy change and six percent remain undecided.

The results are statistically consistent with three prior polls from the same firm, as well as one from Fairleigh Dickinson University, which similarly found roughly two to one support for the measure. A separate survey released earlier this month by Stockton University showed three to one support for legalizing cannabis among New Jersey voters.

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has been actively campaigning in favor of the referendum, participating in fundraisers and ads to encourage voters to approve it.

He recorded a video that was released by NJ CAN 2020 earlier this month, outlining why he’s embraced the policy change. Murphy said that the ongoing criminalization of cannabis in New Jersey wastes taxpayer dollars, and he emphasized that prohibition is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.

The governor similarly said in a recent interview that the marijuana reform proposal prioritizes social justice.

Murphy also recently called on voters to support the proposal in an email blast that was circulated by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.

He said in July that legalizing cannabis is “an incredibly smart thing to do” both from an economic and social justice perspective.

The governor isn’t alone in his attempts to get out the vote for cannabis reform. Filmmaker Kevin Smith earlier this month urged his Twitter followers to “VOTE YES when you see State Public Question Number 1: Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana.”

NJ CAN 2020, one of two campaign committees working to pass the cannabis referendum, recently released a series of English- and Spanish-language video ads, after having published one prior ad. Meanwhile, campaign finance records compiled show that legal marijuana supporters are out-raising opponents by a ratio of nearly 130:1.

In June, the state Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to two ounces a civil penalty without the threat of jail time, though it hasn’t advance in the Senate.

GOP Tennessee Senator Calls For Medical Marijuana Legalization In New Campaign Ad

Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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