By David Knowlton
On Election Day, voters in New Jersey spoke loudly: legalize the sale of cannabis in our state. But as we move toward legalized recreational cannabis, we must not risk the health of medicinal cannabis patients.
New Jersey became the 14th state to allow the sale of medicinal cannabis when the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was passed in 2010. Right now, more than 80,000 people in New Jersey use cannabis to treat or alleviate symptoms from 17 debilitating conditions — conditions ranging from the pain and nausea of cancer to epilepsy, ALS and glaucoma.
The New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program is enabling people to improve their quality of life, and, in some cases, to ease their end-of-life journey.
While I am not opposed to the legalization of recreational cannabis for adults, I am deeply concerned about what the change will mean to people who rely on New Jersey’s medicinal program. In state after state, we’ve seen the rise of a recreational market seriously damage the availability of medicinal cannabis.
Some patients may decide to forego the costly doctor’s office visit, and instead, self-treat their condition with recreational use products. Meanwhile, the cannabis strains that many medicinal patients rely on, in particular those with low levels of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, often disappear. The rise of recreational markets leads to increases in the overall levels of THC in the cannabis sold in a state. Growers know their market. Selling cannabis with low THC to the recreational market is like trying to sell low-alcohol vodka.
Meanwhile, prices for the specialized edibles favored by medical consumers often skyrocket.
The Associated Press analyzed four states with medicinal markets that legalized recreational cannabis: Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska. All four saw a drop in medical patients after the broader legalization of