New Jersey's medical marijuana program has been dramatically expanded over the past year.

Now, as Gov. Phil Murphy presses ahead with a number of new initiatives to address New Jersey’s growing opioid abuse epidemic, the program is being expanded even more.

During a visit to Cooper University Hospital on Wednesday, Murphy announced opioid addiction has been added to the list of conditions that are eligible to be treated with medicinal pot.

“It is yet another door that we are opening to expand compassionate use of this therapy for more patients,” said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the commissioner of the state Department of Health.

He said medical marijuana will be used to treat opioid addiction because “there’s clinical data that strongly suggests that medical marijuana can help people bridge and reduce their dependence on opioids.”

The commissioner cited two landmark studies last year that demonstrated that “states with medical marijuana programs had a lower overdose death rate than states that did not, and also had lower opioid prescribing.”

Eventually, all patients receiving medical marijuana for opioid use disorder in New Jersey will also be required to be on medication assisted treatment.

“We are taking steps to ensure that these patients will also be on medication assisted treatment, or MAT, for their addiction, as part of a broad government-wide push for the most effective evidence based treatment that we know of.”

Previously, only individuals with opioid use disorder who suffered from chronic pain were eligible to get medical marijuana.

The commissioner said the medical marijuana program has 39,000 patients enrolled but “we are doing we can to expand access to this treatment to as many New Jerseyans as possible.”

Murphy said he believes treating opioid addiction with marijuana is a “big deal, both as an alternative to opioids on a ‘going in’ condition, but also as a weapon on folks who are trying to struggle their way out of an addiction.”

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