TRENTON, NJ — New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill on Wednesday that will allow children access to edible medical marijuana products and removed the only state-imposed restriction on the number of medical cannabis strains grown by authorized facilities.
The story has gained national media attention, but the blunt Republican governor hasn’t really softened his stance, saying last week that there is no such thing as medical marijuana. Advocates, including the bill’s author, say the recent change does not go far enough to fixing the problems with the state’s beleaguered three-year old program.
Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union) wrote the bill on behalf of two year old Vivian Wilson, Scotch Plains girl with a potentially fatal form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome. Vivian’s parents, Meghan and Brian had not been able to find a psychiatrist to sign a medical marijuana consent form.
Stender says while the amended bill is a “step forward” towards fixing the medical marijuana program, it is far from ideal telling the Scotch Plains Patch Gov. Christie was choosing to “protect his future aspirations over helping his constituents.”
“It saddens me that parents will continue to have to find a psychiatrist to approve the participation in the program unless the child is mentally ill,” added Stender. “In the case of Vivian it would have made more sense to require a neurologist given the nature of her disease, not a psychiatric evaluation. This shows an unwillingness on the governor’s part to trust parents of a sick child, in consultation with their physician, and only serves to create a contrived need that causes further roadblocks and expenses.”
New Jersey operates the only medical marijuana program in the country that requires doctors to register with the state for permission to recommend cannabis therapy. Just over 200 physicians are registered with NJ Medicinal Marijuana program out of more than 33,000 that practice in the state. Only two pediatricians and one child psychologist are currently registered in the NJ MMP. Patients in New Jersey often have to pay out of pocket or which their insurance to this small pool of doctors.
As originally drafted it would have allowed edible products for all medical marijuana patients and would have removed requirements that at least two doctors approve medical marijuana treatment for children.
After the bill passed the Assembly and Senate on a fast track this summer, Governor Christie chose to issue a conditional veto on the measure. Christie agreed to sign the bill only if the legislature specified that marijuana could only be given to minors with a referral from two doctors, including a psychiatrist and a pediatrician. Christie also, oddly, insisted that marijuana edibles only be given to minors.
The only concession was that Christie agreed to lift the current three-strain limit imposed on dispensaries, allowing them to grow a larger number of strains in order to serve more of patients’ needs.
However, the current requirement that all medical marijuana grown in New Jersey contain less than 10% THC, a restriction that does not exist in any other medical marijuana program in the United States, remains firmly in place.
New Jersey has the most limited and heavily regulated medical marijuana program. Restrictions have been so heavy it has never really operated at all.
Six “Alternative Treatment Centers” were licensed to serve the entire state of nine million residents. Only a single ATC opened in Montclair, NJ and has since only served patients sporadically, and has been closed since June because of supply issues.
About 125 registered medical marijuana patients have ever been able to purchase legal cannabis in New Jersey. Because of the limited doctors, few qualifying conditions and easy access to the underground market only about 1,000 have registered for patient ID cards. Advocates estimate there are 60,000-200,000 residents with qualifying illnesses.
The rest of the New Jersey cannabis ATCs are owned by close political allies of none other than Governor Christie himself. The Compassionate Care Foundation hopes to open a second ATC in Egg Harbor Township, NJ this fall. The Compassionate Care CEO, William Thomas, has been appointed to numerous government positions and titles by Gov. Christie. With Greenleaf barely operating, Thomas and his ATC expect to hold a monopoly; serving all of the New Jersey’s patients until someone else gets into the game.
Chris Goldstein, a longtime medical marijuana advocate and volunteer with the Coalition n for Medical Marijuana New Jersey said,”Governor Christie has given our severely ill residents nothing but hardball politics and empty promises. This veto and continued stifling of the compassionate use law will mean that more medical marijuana patients will continue to be arrested.”