New Jersey legislature turns on Gov. Christie over medical marijuana regulations

Amanda Carey Contributor
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California isn’t the only state that has been debating its medical marijuana laws recently. On Monday, New Jersey’s state Senate rejected a proposal put forth by Republican Governor Chris Christie for the state’s new medical marijuana program, pitting the two branches against each other in a debate that centers on the state’s constitution.

In the legislature, state lawmakers are accusing Christie of using regulations to change a law he simply does not like. The governor, however, says New Jersey’s medical marijuana law does not effectively prevent abuse of the drug.

With Monday’s decision, legislators pushed back, giving the Christie administration 30 more days to rewrite the rules of the state’s marijuana program. The original set, they said, was too restrictive and did not carry out the intent of the law that legalized marijuana for medical purposes earlier this year.

As one of his last official acts in office, then-Democratic Governor Jon Corzine signed the bill legalizing medical marijuana just days before his term expired last January. Corzine signed the bill despite the fact that Christie expressed major misgivings about legalized cannabis.

In a press conference just before the legislature voted in favor of the legislation in overwhelming numbers, Christie said, “I think we all see what’s happened in California. It’s gotten completely out of control.”

Despite Christie’s apprehension and the fact that his background as a district attorney inadvertently casts him as the traditional drug warrior, major players in the marijuana community do credit the governor with being open to the idea of medical marijuana. But the praise essentially stopped there when Christie rolled out his plan for implementing the last-minute bill signed by his predecessor.

Implementation first proved to be a bumpy road this past summer when, according to those familiar with the process, a deal for Rutgers University to have a monopoly on cultivation and teaching hospitals a monopoly on distribution, fell through. That is when Christie reached a backroom compromise with Democrat Assemblyman Reed Gusciora that marijuana activists called “restrictive” and nothing more than a “regulatory scheme”.

Among other things, the compromise deviated from the law passed in January by limiting the amount medical marijuana can be dispensed to patients to two ounces per month, allowing alternative treatment centers to only distribute three types of cannabis, prohibiting home delivery, and limiting one of the dugs components, THC, to 10 percent.

It also would have required physicians to join a registry before being allowed to suggest medical marijuana to patients with illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and AIDS.

“I don’t think it’s too far to call it draconian,” Chris Goldstein of the New Jersey Coalition for Medical Marijuana (NJCMM) told The Daily Caller in reference to Chrstie’s proposals. “They’ve created an extreme set of regulations. But the regulatory process is supposed to be more pragmatic, where you follow the intent of the law.”

“We feel the governor is significantly tying to alter the law,” Goldstein continued, insisting that scientific evidence shows marijuana is a safe, effective treatment that improves the quality of life for many patients. “We’re ignoring science and instead engaging in politics. That is what the Christie administration is doing. It is truly Chris Christie versus [everyone] else.”

Ken Wolski, executive director of NJCMM, told TheDC, “We were gratified to see the entire state legislature agreed with us. [The rules] enacted a different law quite frankly.”

Wolski also said Christie’s restrictions came as a major surprise. “We didn’t anticipate this,” he said. “We were shocked and surprised that the program was so unfriendly to marijuana patients.”

The back-and-forth over medical marijuana also highlights the tension that has existed between the Democratic-controlled legislature and a conservative governor with a high national profile. One of the bill’s sponsors, state Senator Nicholas Scutari was even quoted as saying, “He’s [Christie] more of a czar than a governor. I don’t’ know why we have a legislature.”

Christie’s office, however, is accusing the legislature of unnecessarily delaying implementation. “We think it’s time to move the program forward, and we’ve offered a bipartisan solution to do that,” Christie spokesperson said in a statement. “Let’s not waste any more time; let’s get the program moving.”

Additionally, Christie defended his proposal himself via his Twitter feed. In a tweet dated December 14, GovChristie wrote, “Not trying 2 change it. Regulating THC like any other medicine & prohibiting home delivery ( neither in law as enacted).”