Gov. Murphy signs medical marijuana law named for Howell youngster

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For years to come, when residents of New Jersey dealing with crippling pain are able to purchase and use medical marijuana, they will be able to thank Jake Honig for helping to make that access possible.

Jake, 7, of Howell, died on Jan. 21, 2018 after a five-year battle with cancer. He is survived by his father, Mike, his mother, Janet, and his sister, Gianna. In the late stages of their son’s disease, the Honigs used medical cannabis to ease the pain Jake faced.

After Jake died, the Honigs committed themselves to lobbying for an expansion of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program and on July 2 in Freehold Township, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act into law.

The law is expected to reform New Jersey’s medical marijuana program and expand patient access to medical marijuana.

Murphy signed the bill into law at the new Tommy’s Tavern + Tap, Route 9. According to Mike Honig, Tommy’s location in Sea Bright was Jake’s favorite pizza place.

The new law revises requirements to authorize and access medical cannabis; establishes a
Cannabis Regulatory Commission; revises permit requirements for alternative
treatment centers; and establishes additional legal protections for patients and
caregivers.

During comments at the signing ceremony, Mike Honig expressed his thanks to those who joined him and his wife on the journey to see a legislative bill become law.

“There have been a lot of lows, but it is also important for everybody to come together and experience something so positive,” Honig said. “Thank you to everybody, be like Jake!”

“Be like Jake” refers to how Jake, who was nicknamed “The Tank,” always showed up strong.

“Our son was diagnosed with a brain tumor on Aug. 3, 2012. Hearing that your son has brain cancer is probably the second worst thing you can hear. Jake battled for five years and through that time he spent some happy days in remission, but he also relapsed three times,” Honig said.

He said Jake underwent brutal treatments, “including two brain surgeries, 61 rounds of radiation and over 20 rounds of chemotherapy, but what is so impressive is not the therapy Jake endured, but how he endured it.

“Jake was a master of controlling what he could. He could not control that he had cancer, he could not control that he had to go through these barbaric treatments, but he could control the fact that he found some point, at least, in every day to smile,” Honig said.

He said that is why Jake continues to be their inspiration.

During his treatments, Jake was part of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program for nine months.

“Jake was on medical cannabis and he would go to school, he would excel in sports, he would play video games, he would spend quality time with his family and friends. You would never know Jake was on medical cannabis because of the way we were able to administer it medically,” Honig said.

But there came a time during the treatment where the cancer became too much for the child.

“We were told the worst thing a parent could hear and that was Jake was going to die. When we heard that we were released on hospice with what seemed to be a gallon of morphine and more (Oxycodone) than any one household should ever have their hands on,” Honig said.

He said that medication did little, if anything, to treat the pain, nausea, vomiting, agitation and delusions Jake was having.

“Morphine and Oxycodone proved to have stronger side effects than they did to be advantageous. When Jake was on morphine he would become high, he would have side effects so bad he would scratch his chest until it bled. He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t look at food, he couldn’t look at water without vomiting. He was truly a different person while he was on those medications,” Honig said.

He said that was when the family decided to increase Jake’s use of medical cannabis. Honig said cannabis oil could be rubbed on his son’s gums and absorbed. The substance can also be used with suppositories.

“To our delight, every time we gave him his medical marijuana, 20 minutes later his pain would subside. He was able to eat, he was able to drink, he was able to sleep, he was able to spend time with Gianna, spend time with us … but most of all he was able to laugh again and the medical cannabis allowed for Jake’s personality to shine through his cancer,” Honig said.

He said the medical cannabis was not life-saving for Jake, but it was life-changing.

Honig said that after Jake passed away, the family knew they had a mission to no longer fight for Jake, but to continue his fight. They started “Be Like Jake,” a nonprofit organization that assists families in Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties.

“The other way we promised to continue Jake’s fight is to raise awareness for medical marijuana. The biggest obstacle we ran into was running out of the medication,” Honig said. “What is so special and nearest to our heart is that this law completely lifts the ban for terminally ill patients. Now they can receive unlimited amounts of the medication to keep them comfortable as they end their life.”

Murphy called the bill signing a special day and thanked the Honig family for being powerful advocates for the medical marijuana program.

“Making medical marijuana available as a treatment for kids like Jake has been a long, complex journey and our entire state is indebted to you (the Honigs) and to Jake and his memory for walking with us throughout this process,” Murphy said.

Murphy said that days after he became governor in January 2018, he signed an executive order directing the New Jersey Department of Health to review all aspects of the existing medical marijuana program with a specific focus on expanding patient access.

“Our goal has always been to have a program that is modernized, compassionate and puts patients first. The department’s review concluded with proposals to make our medical marijuana program functional and capable of meeting the needs of patients and it proposed statutory changes,” Murphy said.

“With today’s changes we are raising the monthly limit on medical marijuana so patients won’t need to take dangerous and addictive opioids, as Mike alluded to, just because they could not be prescribed a necessary amount of vital and appropriate medicine,” the governor said. “We are allowing edible forms of medical marijuana, which are easier for many patients to ingest, to be available for adult patients and not just minors.”

Among other provisions, the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act:

• Raises the monthly limit from 2 ounces to 3 ounces. The bill raises the limit to 3 ounces per month for 18 months. After that time elapses, the maximum amount will be determined by regulation. Terminally ill and hospice care patients will not be subject to any monthly limit, effective immediately;

• Extends the authorization period from 90 days to one year. Currently, patients can only be authorized by a physician to receive up to a 90-day supply and must be re-certified every three months. The law changes this requirement and authorizes health care practitioners to issue up to a one-year supply, which will help reduce the frequency of visits and decrease costs for patients;

• Authorizes edibles for adults in addition to minors. Under the prior law, edibles were only authorized for patients who are minors. The new law allows edibles to be dispensed to adult patients as well;

• Phases out the sales tax on medical marijuana. Unlike most forms of medicine, medical marijuana is currently subject to the sales tax. The law phases out the sales tax over three years until it is eliminated entirely in July 2022;

• Prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against employees solely based on their status as medical marijuana patients;

• Authorizes the adoption of regulations to enable dispensaries to deliver medical marijuana to patients, which will improve patient access;

• Creates a Cannabis Regulatory Commission to assume responsibility over the medical marijuana program.

Howell Mayor Theresa Berger said, “This law advances compassionate, affordable health care for so many people who are in need. This common sense legislation streamlines the process for patients and caregivers to ensure that patients are able to receive the treatment they need.”

Berger is the president and CEO of Ocean Health Initiatives, a nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC).

She said, “As the president and CEO of an FQHC, I can tell you firsthand that the best health care in the world is of very little value if the people who need it can’t access it.

“This law helps to ensure that patients and caregivers will not have to face the frustration of knowing there is treatment available that could make an enormous improvement to their quality of life, but is not within their reach because of red tape and bureaucracy or high costs,” she said.