Christie sabotages medical marijuana program

The state’s medical marijuana program is on life support now, thanks to Gov. Chris Christie’s latest bit of bureaucratic sabotage. This law, which offers a measure of compassion to patients in severe pain, was signed by Gov. Jon Corzine on his last day in office. It was supposed to be ready within six months — about a year ago — but the administration has placed one absurd hurdle after another in its path.

The state Department of Health added restrictions found nowhere in the law. It limited the potency of the marijuana to weak strains. It banned home delivery. It forbid placement of distribution centers within 1,000 feet of schools, which makes it virtually impossible to put one in a city like Newark. The sponsors compromised over and over, and yet the administration found more reasons to delay. Even now, the administration will not say how close it is to being able to implement the law.

And last week, Christie pulled out the big gun. Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, he said, he will not allow the program to move forward until federal authorities assure him they will not prosecute. Understand that this clash with federal law is nothing new. What’s new is the governor’s ultimatum. The governor is a former federal prosecutor and knows he will not get the letter he says he wants. How can a federal prosecutor state explicitly and in advance that he will not enforce a federal law?

But prosecutors do have discretion over how to deploy their resources, about which laws are the priority. Should they put their agents on the trail of al Qaeda, or the mob? Or should they go after that grandmother with cancer who is puffing on a joint she bought at a state-approved clinic in Sussex County?

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo in 2009 directing federal prosecutors that they “should not focus federal resources … on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

In other words, leave grandma alone and get busy solving real crimes. Yes, that falls short of a flat-out promise Christie is demanding. But it’s unreasonable to expect more. Holder can’t promise that he won’t enforce federal law. He went about as far as he could.  And federal prosecutors heard him. They have not raided these programs in any of the states where they are up and running. And given that New Jersey’s law is far more strict than the others, the chances of a raid here are miniscule.
If Congress passed a new law explicitly exempting these programs, the problem would be solved. But that’s not going to happen. And Christie hasn’t lifted a finger to encourage the state’s delegation to press for it.

His intention is to kill this program. That will no doubt strengthen his appeal among national Republicans, should he decide to run for higher office one day. But it leaves people in New Jersey in pain, with no relief. And to use them as pawns in a political stunt like this is just plain wrong.

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