Taking the Bat to NJ’s Medical Marijuana Program

Christie.

Christie.

Last week, The Department of Health issued its annual report on the state of NJ’s medical marijuana program. I would’ve written about it sooner, but the report’s so rife with spin and political bull(redacted) that I needed to wait for new waders to arrive before I could delve in properly. Smartly sprinkled with graphs and tables, the report cherry-picks data in an attempt to cast a rosy glow on things. No surprise there. But digging a bit deeper reveals some data points that prove NJ’s medical marijuana program is still the pits. So let’s cherry pick a few numbers of our own, shall we?
7%
That’s how much sales tax New Jersey levies on medical marijuana purchases. No other state in the nation taxes medication of any kind (including medical cannabis wherever it’s legal.) New Jersey’s bizarre, novel tariff was NOT part of the original medical marijuana law. That was added by the Christie Administration after-the-fact despite howls of protest from patients and legislators alike. The same Chris Christie who promised to save us from Big Government Run Amok gouges sick people an extra 7% just because he could. It almost sounds like something Donald J. Trump would think of!  That 7% tariff on sick and dying people added another $955,153.92 to the state’s till to cover things like Chris Christie’s security detail whenever he’s out-of-state campaigning for Trump.  That sales tax number was NOT included in the report. And why on earth would they? It’s a lot easier to create the allusion of success when you’re leaving out glaring details that don’t reflect well on the program. Fleecing sick people never looks good, especially when it comes in the form of a mean-spirited new tax set up just for them.
$489
According to this report, an ounce of medical marijuana in NJ will set you back, on average, $489. This report goes to great lengths to convince readers that NJ’s prices are in-line with other medical marijuana states, although in some cases our prices were nearly twice as much. Not surprisingly, the state’s $489 figure does NOT include the 7% tax it levies on its own sick citizens who need medical cannabis. So for the sake of mathematical reality let’s adjust that price-point to reflect what the consumer actually pays: $523.32 per ounce. If they’re gonna make us pay the extra $34.23 in sales tax for an ounce medical cannabis, then its misleading of them to only cite pre-tax figures in their report.
1744
That’s how many pounds of medical cannabis were sold in New Jersey in 2015. Not sure now many joints that equates to, but that’s 27,904 ounces for those of y’all doing the math. At $489/oz it all adds up to $13,645,056 in pre-tax sales of legal cannabis in New Jersey last year. That’s a modest number relative to other medical marijuana states, due in large part to the our own program’s chronic over-regulation, taxes, and fees.
6,126 
That how many active patients were in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program at last year’s end. Of 7,299 total applications, 339 were turned down and a few dozen more became inactive. Yet another 646 patients died during the year, a sad, jarring reminder that this is a program for sick and dying people (and NOT some gateway to a stoner’s paradise like Chris Chrsitie would have you believe.) Patients and caregivers must fork over $200 to the NJ Department of Health every two years for the privilege of membership in the program. The state made $243,093 last year in fees levied on patients and caregivers applying for the program. Per the report, “this revenue is used to offset the operation cost of the program.” Of course they said the same thing about their appalling sales tax gambit, and all that money went straight to the treasury to pay for things like Chris Christie’s BridgeGate legal bills.
Conclusion
If you wanna know how New Jersey’s medical cannabis system is really going, you’re wise to ask one of the 6,126 active patients who are forced to navigate a bureaucratic maze of regulations, fees, and taxes just for the pleasure of getting into the game. Or you could ask one of the five dispensaries in NJ, all doing business in an oppressive regulatory climate, courtesy of a Governor who swore to protect us from big-government overreach. Chris Christie has been opposed to cannabis reform of any kind  from his very first moments in office. He said so. Subsequently he has done nothing discernible to nurture success of any kind for the state’s cannabis system. Quite the contrary. In words and deeds, Chris Christie remains mostly hostile towards his own state’s medical cannabis program, regardless of how his Department of Health tries to spin it.
Jay Lassiter started covering NJ politics in 2005 as a blogger for BlueJersey.com. After a stint as America’s first State House blogger, Jay did communication for Congressman Rob Andrews’ and Congressman John Adler’s campaigns. Jay’s best known for his work legalizing medical marijuana and gay marriage and for working to end NJ’s death penalty. He’s on Twitter at @Jay_Lass.
Taking the Bat to NJ’s Medical Marijuana Program