But last week Gov. Phil Murphy announced that his administration’s medical marijuana program was stronger than ever, with approximately 25,500 patients, nearly 1,000 caregivers and 412 doctors added to the program since Murphy took office. The tax rate and the transparency of the use of those tax revenues, he believes, also needs to be settled. According to the Murphy administration, the top five medical conditions among patients who have qualified for the program are chronic pain due to musculoskeletal disorders, anxiety, intractable skeletal spasticity, PTSD and severe chronic pain due to cancer or HIV. “I don’t think it has the votes right now. I really have my doubts,” O’Scanlon said. “The bill definitely is not done yet, it needs considerably more work. If we’re going to do this, we need to definitively answer the concerns of residents.” All of these actions followed the lead of the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, which passed a resolution of its own in January 2018 noting its staunch opposition to any attempt by New Jersey to legalize marijuana. “The biggest thing for me is that the bill respects the wishes of the municipality,” Gopal said. “If your municipality passes a resolution stating we don’t want this in our town, the state needs to respect that, and this bill does just that.” “I met someone last month who was arrested 15 years ago for a single bag of marijuana and he’s still having trouble getting a job because that charge is on his record. That isn’t right,” Gopal said. Red Bank is the only Two River town that has indicated it is open to considering marijuana within municipal lines, and would welcome a medical marijuana facility under the New Jersey Compassionate Use Marijuana Act. The Borough of Highlands was the most recent town to take a stance on the matter, voting to ban dispensaries of any kind from its downtown business district with a unanimous decision at its Feb. 20 council meeting. Colts Neck, Rumson, Oceanport and Shrewsbury have also banned marijuana sales in both recreational and medical forms. Middletown acted similarly in February 2018 when it introduced a law that prohibited businesses from growing, producing and selling recreational marijuana, but included “minimal use conditions” for a medical facility. But the township has not yet taken any formal action. On the contrary, Gopal’s biggest fear about the potential passage of this bill is the adverse impact it could have on New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. Fair Haven said “no” to recreational sales, but left some room for a medical dispensary should an application ever come before the planning and zoning boards. According to the governor’s office, there are now more than 42,500 patients, upward of 1,700 caregivers and a total of 925 doctors participating in the program. Gopal said the biggest advancement is the bill’s “expungement piece,” which would have marijuana charges removed from the records of nonviolent criminals. Gopal said he was pleased with the structure of the bill, especially for the protections it provides municipalities who have passed or will pass a law banning recreational and/or medical dispensaries. “I am proud that New Jersey now has a medical marijuana program that is compassionate and is meeting the needs of more and more patients,” Murphy said in a media release. “Today, thousands of residents living with anxiety, migraines, Tourette’s syndrome, and chronic pain, among other conditions, have increased access to medical marijuana when just one year ago many could not get the treatment they needed.” Other reforms made to the program over the past year include the selection of six businesses who may now apply for permits to open new medical dispensaries around the state, as well as enhanced mobile access for patients, caregivers and physicians to access resources, upload documents and make payments on their smart devices like cellphones and tablets. An expansion of available products, including oils and pre-filled vaporizer cartridges, has also been authorized. O’Scanlon said the bill still needs to appropriately address children’s access to marijuana, as well as those who are stopped by authorities while driving under the influence. “We don’t really know what the effects will be, but the concern is, once recreational becomes law, medical may have trouble surviving,” he added. The state legislature is on the brink of this historic vote after the bill was approved by two legislative committees Monday, though local state Sens. Vin Gopal (D-11) and Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) are split on whether it has enough support pass. “The tax rate needs to be low enough in order to break the back of the black market dealers. If you don’t do that it’s not worth moving forward with legalization. And every penny of the money that is generated must be accounted for and needs to be committed to enhancing safety measures and drug recognition training in our municipalities,” O’Scanlon added. A vote expected to come as early as March 25 could be a case of “light up” or “lights out” for a landmark bill that aims to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use across the state of New Jersey. If the bill does not pass, it could set the legalization effort back months. Previously, only individuals suffering from chronic pain via opioid-use disorder qualified for the program. Several Two River-area towns have already taken that step.