New Jersey’s Department of Health announced Monday that it will significantly boost the number of licenses it distributes in hopes of expanding the state’s medical marijuana program.
But accessing medical marijuana remains difficult for some patients, even in states that hope to permit its use, cannabis advocates say. Because cannabis remains classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved it to reduce pain, treat anxiety or provide other much-touted health benefits.
Typically, insurance companies cover the costs of only FDA-approved drugs, so patients cannot use their health insurance policies for their prescription or application fee, said Shanita Penny, president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, a lobbying group. Those patients have to pay out-of-pocket costs that Penny said can add up to more than $900 in some states after patients pay the application fee, buy required paraphernalia and obtain the drug.
Virtually every Democrat seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination has called for legalizing adult recreational use. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday unveiled a plan that would include requiring health insurers, including Medicaid and Medicare, to cover medical marijuana.
“We’ve made great progress in recent years on legalizing marijuana at the state and municipal level, and we’ve seen the positive benefits in states like Colorado, Washington, and more,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “But a state-by-state patchwork is not enough to tackle the deeply rooted racial, social, and economic injustices within our marijuana laws, or to fully unleash the economic equity and opportunity of marijuana legalization.”