Gov. Christie Puts Hold on NJ Medical Marijuana Program

Monday, June 20, 2011

Government vs Cannabis

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Thursday day night he won't allow the state's medical marijuana program to get underway until he receives reassurances from Washington that the federal government will not prosecute state workers involving in regulating it. It is the latest delay by the governor, whom advocates accuse of dragging his feet on implementing a law passed before he was elected.

"The federal government is saying medical marijuana is against the law," Christie explained during an appearance on On the Line, a call-in show broadcast on the New Jersey Network. "Until I get that assurance, I cannot ask people to do things that they might get prosecuted by federal prosecutors. What happens if they get arrested and I ordered them to do it, that's wrong," Christie said.

Christie added that his office has twice written to US Attorney Paul Fishman seeking clarification, but has not received a response. The letters were written by New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow -- the first one in April -- and copied to US Attorney General Eric Holder. Fishman has repeatedly referred media queries to Holder, and it appears he's giving New Jersey officials the same silent treatment.

State Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Donna Leusner told New Friday the state continues to prepare to implement the program. "We are continuing our work on the program, but are waiting for clarification on the application of federal law,'' Leusner said.

Activists and patients were not amused. They noted that it has been nearly a year and a half since the law was passed, and no patient has yet been able to legally access his or her medicine.

"We urge the governor to reconsider this decision. Nothing has changed in the equation between state and federal law," said Roseanne Scotti, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, who helped massage the law through the legislature. "Fourteen other states are operating medical marijuana programs and no state workers have ever been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution. By delaying implementation the Governor is condemning sick and dying people to turn to the illegal market for the medicine that best relieves their pain and suffering. Delaying the implementation of this bill also thwarts the will of the people of New Jersey who overwhelmingly support this program."

"It is the federal government that is wrong in this, not New Jersey. State officials should not look to the feds for guidance on medical marijuana," said Ken Wolski, director of the state's largest patient lobbying group, the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey. "The attorney general should instead be insisting that the federal government reschedule marijuana from its absurd Schedule I status."

"I can't believe that Governor Christie is forcing sick New Jersey citizens to use the black market for medicine that is proven to help them," said patient Nancy Fedder of Hillsborough. "I have Multiple Sclerosis and medical marijuana is absolutely a better choice for me. This law was passed by our legislators over a year ago and Governor Christie has done everything he can to hinder its implementation. Now he's putting the entire program on hold!"

Legislative sponsors of the medical marijuana law weren't pleased either. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out there's some foot dragging going on," said Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden).

"I thought the program was moving forward. It was the whole reason we compromised," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), who sponsored the bill in the Assembly. "It's disappointing -- he should go ahead. It's more of his national ambitions getting the better of him," he told New

Advocates vowed to continue to fight to get the program implemented. "We plan to do everything in our power to urge the Governor to move forward with the program," said Scotti. "If the governor is worried about state workers getting arrested, we know many smart dedicated individuals who would be more than happy to take the jobs overseeing the medical marijuana program and assume any risk of arrest. Let people run the program who care about the program and about relieving the suffering of sick and dying people. There's a solution right there."