“It’s very similar to how pharmaceutical drugs and other commodities are sold. When large corporations are given the chance, they will be greedy.”

By Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor

State officials have stressed that they agree with medical marijuana patients who say the price of cannabis in New Jersey remains too expensive—but the officials say their hands are tied by the law, which gives them no control over prices set by dispensaries.

One lawmaker is looking across the Delaware River at what Pennsylvania has done—including a provision in its medical marijuana law allowing state cannabis officials to implement price caps if cannabis prices become “unreasonable or excessive.”

Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) wants to use Pennsylvania’s statute as a model, introducing a bill in March that would allow the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission to set price caps on medical cannabis cultivators, manufacturers or dispensaries if they’re selling their products at a price that is “unreasonable and inconsistent” with their actual costs. The commission would be allowed to cap prices for six-month intervals.

Singleton, who called the price of weed in New Jersey “very concerning for many people utilizing medical cannabis,” said capping prices could put pressure on the market and lead to lower prices.

Chris Goldstein is a marijuana advocate who tracks cannabis prices in New Jersey and Pennsylvania dispensaries.

“It’s very similar to how pharmaceutical drugs and other commodities are sold. When large corporations are given the chance, they will be greedy,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’ve been sold the same promises for almost 13 years that prices would come down, and there was more competition and more businesses, but the same businesses have been here the whole time, and prices remain remarkably similar.”

Critics like Goldstein have linked the high prices of legal cannabis to the corporations that control a large part of New Jersey’s market. Out of about 40 cultivators, just a handful are independent, like Breakwater, Valley Wellness and Brute’s Roots. The vast majority are corporations filling retailers’ shelves, even in most mom-and-pop shops.

At Ascend in Fort Lee, the price of an eighth without any discounts is $65, or $50 if on sale. In Scranton, Pennsylvania, the same amount of medical weed costs $15. At Curaleaf in Bordentown, an eighth costs $60, and in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, it costs $32.50.

Edward “Lefty” Grimes is a marijuana and disability advocate based out of Morris County. As much as he wants to support dispensaries in New Jersey, he can’t afford the high price of extracted cannabis oil, known commonly as dabs. It’s sold for $100 a gram in stores, but it’s $20 to $30 a gram on the legacy market.

“It’s hard to find a dispensary I can afford. Once in a while, I’ll go in there and browse, but I feel like I’m going into a luxury shop I can’t afford,” said Grimes.

The Cannabis Regulatory Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

Goldstein said it’s been “heartbreaking” to watch legal cannabis in the rest of the country become more affordable as New Jersey’s prices remain high. He suggested the prices are a reason why enrollment in the medical marijuana program has declined since recreational cannabis was legalized.

Grimes called the price-fixing legislation “low-hanging fruit” for lawmakers to pass and an easy way to open access to affordable cannabis for patients.

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“These are sick people that need this medicine for cancer, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, and we have fallen so far off the radar as patients,” he said.

Singleton, who has sponsored several bills aimed at improving the cannabis industry, said it’s tough to get any cannabis legislation passed in the Legislature. Right now, the price cap bill hasn’t moved beyond conversations behind the scenes, he said.

“We’re going to keep banging on the drum, because we know so many people who are dealing with exponentially high pricing and we want to do something about it,” he said.

This story was first published by New Jersey Monitor.

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