TRENTON – Four state programs would begin helping cover the cost of medical marijuana for beneficiaries, under a bill that took a first step through the Legislature Wednesday.

The bill endorsed by the Assembly Health Committee, A5760, would provide long-elusive outside financial support through the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund, Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled, Senior Gold and the Victims of Crime Compensation Office.

“We await insurance coverage for this particular therapeutic,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington. “But not having that, we’re moving forward with coverage in these programs because they are state-run programs with state dollars only, and so there’s no implication of any federal program or action being devoid as it is of federal support.”

The benefits would apply to patients registered in the state’s medical marijuana program. Enrollment was approaching 111,000 patients as of the end of May.

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The Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund would have to assist with the cost of medical cannabis for a child who is eligible for assistance from the fund, subject to rules the fund establishes and to the availability of money in the fund.

Seniors enrolled in PAAD or Senior Gold would be required a pay a copay that when they buy medical marijuana that could not be waived, discounted or rebated.

Copays would be $7 through PAAD or $15 plus half the remaining cost for the medical marijuana through Senior Gold. Copays would be limited to $15 for Senior Gold participants whose out-of-pocket expenses for all prescriptions in a 12-month period exceed $2,000 for a single person or $3,000 for a married couple.

The VCCO would have to include the costs associated with the medical use of cannabis as an expense for which a victim may receive compensation, an emergency award or a supplemental award.

“This bill really extends the benefits of cannabis more broadly,” Conaway said. “The cost of medical cannabis can run into the hundreds of dollars a month for individuals. These programs service those who are often at least somewhat financially distressed.

“The goals of sponsors in the Senate and here in the Assembly are to ensure that in consultation with their physicians that the benefits of medical cannabis are available to all who may need it,” he said.

Under the bill, PAAD, Senior Gold and the VCCO could adopt rules limiting the amount of medical marijuana subsidized each month at a level lower than the maximum amount

The bill was advanced by a 9-2 vote. All the committee’s Democrats and two Republicans – Nancy Munoz, R-Union, and DeAnne DeFuccio, R-Bergen – voted for it. Two Republicans were opposed: Brian Rumpf, R-Ocean, and Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon.

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