TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey has 146 applications to choose from for six new medical marijuana dispensaries across the state, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday.
Murphy announced the number of applications from 106 different companies vying for two locations in each of the state’s regions — north, central and south.
It’s the latest development since Murphy announced in July he was seeking to double the number of dispensaries from six to 12. He also says program participation grew to 30,000 people, up from 15,000 since January, when Murphy was inaugurated. His predecessor, Republican Chris Christie, was an ardent opponent of marijuana legalization and also took little interest in the state’s medical marijuana program, which was enacted shortly before he took office.
“This is another step forward in removing barriers put in place by the previous administration and creating a more consumer-friendly program,” Murphy said in a statement.
The application period closed Friday. Those chosen to proceed will be announced Nov. 1.
The administration says there were 50 applicants in the north, 45 in the central part of the state and 51 in the south.
Applicants paid a $20,000 fee, though the administration said that $18,000 of that fee would be returned to unsuccessful candidates.
Supporters of marijuana expansion hailed the news as a sign of interest a growing market. They also say a bigger market is favorable for consumers who could benefit from competition.
“The fact that we have so many different organizations going after these six licenses is only going to benefit the patient,” said Scott Rudder, who heads the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association.
Opponents of legalization raised some red flags about medical marijuana expansion.
Stephen Reid, a spokesman for New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy, said the group has concerns about normalizing drug use. He also said more research and regulation are needed for medical marijuana.
“The state should slow down its love-affair with pot until we learn more about the community impacts of these new policies,” he said.
The state’s six current dispensaries were not eligible to apply though they can apply to set up satellite locations, according to the Health Department.
This latest expansion applies to facilities that combine cultivation, manufacturing and dispensing in one business.
Opening new centers comes as the state considers legalizing recreational marijuana, though legislation has not yet moved through the Democrat-led Legislature.
Murphy has already expanded the state’s medical marijuana program.
In March, his administration added five conditions eligible for medical marijuana coverage: anxiety, migraines, Tourette’s syndrome, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders and chronic visceral pain.
New Jersey’s program began roughly a decade ago under Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. It was slowly implemented under Christie.
Murphy also lowered the patient fee to participate in the program from $200 to $100, with a $20 rate for veterans and seniors.
The governor also allowed doctors who prescribe marijuana not to appear on a public registry. Murphy has said there was a sense that doctors who prescribed the drug faced a stigma.