SPARTA, N.J. – Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Sussex) wrote in an op-ed for The Star-Ledger Wednesday criticizing Gov. Phil Murphy and the Democrats for putting legalizing recreational marijuana ahead of medical marijuana.
The Democrats’ political machine is failing medical marijuana patients, a Republican legislator says
By Hal Wirths, Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
The saga of marijuana legalization failures is an example of politics at its worst. For over a year medical marijuana expansion for thousands of people has been held hostage by attempts to legalize recreational marijuana.
The Democrats political machine isn’t working because it doesn’t know how to make a good product. Now, Gov. Phil Murphy set a May deadline to pass marijuana legalization after there weren’t enough votes in the legislature to put the bills on his desk.
Murphy needs to realize that he doesn’t have the power to set deadlines. Every time he has attempted to put pressure on the legislature, the deadlines pass. The Assembly and Senate are their own card game, each playing with a different deck called legislators.
The Democrat machine makes it seem like they care about those who need marijuana most: the patients. But when push comes to shove, their true intentions show.
Assemblywoman Joann Downey seemed sincere in her advocacy for medicinal cannabis, but she was front and center with Speaker Craig Coughlin when they announced there would be no vote because their priority is people who want to use marijuana recreationally. Until then, people who rely on it medically will have to wait.
I saw parents testify in committee, and it was extremely powerful. It brought some legislators to tears. For any legislator to change their tune after that is shameful.
That testimony should be enough for anyone to immediately pass the medical marijuana legislation named after Jake Honig, whose use had a remarkable impact improving his fight against cancer.
And when you dig into the medical marijuana bill, the state is no better than a pharmaceutical company that jacks-up prices. Medical marijuana in New Jersey is the most expensive in the entire country, and it will continue to be so.
Currently, it costs a patient $100 to be registered. No other prescription requires a $100 registration fee; not even the opiates that are devastating our state and nation.
Then, to buy an ounce, it would cost at least $340, without tax. Almost half the people in the state cannot afford a $500 emergency cost, and they are half the people who may need it.
After the registration fee and exorbitant costs that aren’t covered by insurance, patients still have to pay the state sales tax – another exclusive requirement. No other prescription is taxed. In the bill it will be taxed for five more years. That tax should be eliminated immediately, as my colleague Assemblyman John DiMaio has proposed but Democrats have ignored.
They ignored it because their true intent of marijuana legalization isn’t to help people. It is to increase revenue for the government because it is another thing that can be taxed. The people of New Jersey are taxed more than enough. The least we can do is stop taxing people’s medicine.
Governor Murphy’s May deadline is too far away for people who have a daily need for medical marijuana and can’t access it because it is either too expensive or they don’t yet qualify. We need to help patients now, and stop with the politics that have held New Jersey back and continues to make life more difficult for the people we are supposed to represent.
We need to represent the interests of the people of New Jersey. Instead, the Democratic machine is prioritizing their political interests. What a shame that is.
Harold “Hal” Wirths was state labor commissioner from 2010 to 2016 and a small-business owner for almost 20 years. He is a state assemblyman for the 24th legislative district, representing Sussex County and parts of Warren and Morris counties.