New Jersey will forge ahead with its stalled medical marijuana program, Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday, adding that he believed the people involved will not face federal prosecution.
The marijuana law, enacted in January 2010, called for the program to begin operation six months later. Instead, the soonest patients will receive state-sanctioned cannabis is late this year, almost two years after the program became law.
Mr. Christie, a Republican, opposed the bill that former Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, signed on his last day in office. As governor, Mr. Christie postponed putting the program into effect, imposed restrictions on the program and delayed it over concerns about what the federal government would do.
“When others said that it was because we didn’t want to implement the program, it just was never true,” he said at a news conference in Trenton.
The governor said he wanted “to provide compassionate treatment to people who are suffering, in a way that will not expose them, the operators of our dispensaries or the employees of the State of New Jersey to criminal liability.”
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat and one of the law’s primary sponsors, said he had hoped that the governor would ease some of his restrictions, but played down that issue. “I would rather we address these things over the long term so that we can get the program up and running as quickly as possible,” Mr. Gusciora said.
The regulations the governor placed on the program include limiting the strength of the marijuana, prohibiting edible forms of the drug and forbidding dispensaries from making home deliveries. Some patients say the drug combats pain, nausea and loss of appetite.
Mr. Christie’s go-ahead means that state health officials can compile a patient registry and that six nonprofit organizations licensed by the state can lease space and begin growing plants.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the Obama administration has said it will not bother with people who are complying with state medicinal marijuana laws. After federal law enforcement agencies cracked down on some medical marijuana operations in other states, Mr. Christie and other governors asked for clarification of federal policy.
In a June 29 memorandum, the Justice Department said it was primarily concerned with large money-making operations that also supplied the black market. Mr. Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said he was confident that the state’s narrowly tailored efforts would not be penalized.
Among the 16 states with medical marijuana laws, New Jersey has the most stringent one, restricting use of the drug to a short list of specific diseases and limiting the state to six dispensaries.
New York Times
July 19, 2011
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