Gov. Christie gives green light for N.J. medical marijuana program

Gov. Chris Christie said today he has directed the state health department to “move forward as expeditiously as possible” with the state’s medical marijuana program he put on hold in April, while awaiting for assurances from federal law enforcement officials that state employees and licensed growers would not be vulnerable to prosecution.  Christie said he never got a clear answer from federal officials. But after analyzing a memo from the U.S. Justice Department last month, reading comments President Obama made when he was a presidential candidate in 2008, and reflecting on his own experience as the former U.S. Attorney, he said going ahead with the program was worth however small the risk.

“My desire all along has to bring compassionate care to the people who need it the most,” the governor said at an afternoon press conference at the Statehouse. “This is a narrow and medically-based program that will not lend itself to abuses that we have seen particularly in California and Colorado,” he added. In April, the governor delayed launching the program out of concern raised by other governors and mayors around the country that state employees affiliated with the program could run the risk of arrest by federal law enforcement officials. Possessing and selling marijuana remains a federal crime, despite 16 states enacting medical marijuana laws for select patients.

The delay frustrated patients, who had been told the drug would be available this summer. The Department of Health and Senior Services in March announced six alternative treatment centers, the nonprofits that successfully competed to be the only sanctioned source of marijuana, could begin building their operation. When patients will be able to buy pot and acquire a state identification card stating their physicians had recommended marijuana, remains unclear. Most of the center operates have said they held off on signing building leases and hiring employees until the governor gave them the go-ahead. Growing and cultivating can take several months, center operators say.
Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey said the governor’s decision made many terminally and seriously chronically ill patients happy. “Obviously you have to get something up and running, but in any case we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Scotti said. “Patients had no hope. Now the health department is moving forward and the governor said we would be getting more information in the next week. We are hoping they can get up as quickly as possible and patients get relief as quickly as possible.”

Christie said he had not spoken to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman to ask him whether he will focus law enforcement time and attention on New Jersey’s medical marijuana operators. But he asked himself what he would have done if there was such a law during his tenure. “I would not have,” he said.  Christie said a June 30 memo from Deputy U.S. Attorney James Cole, “gave us some hints” about who was most at risk for breaking federal drug laws.

The Obama administration is concerned about “an increase in scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes,” according to the memo. “Within the past 12 months, several jurisdictions have considered or enacted legislation to authorize multiple large-scale, privately operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers. Some of these planned facilities have revenue projections of millions of dollars based on the planned cultivation of tens of thousands of cannabis plants.”

via : NJ.com

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