Christie Opposes Import of Medical Marijuana, But Democrats Still Push Bill

Andrew Kitchenman | December 13, 2013 | Health Care
Measure would allow patients to acquire medicinal pot from sources in other states

Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union).
Gov. Chris Christie has expressed opposition to a bill allowing New Jersey patients to bring in medical marijuana from other states, but that hasn’t stopped Democratic legislators from pressing forward with the measure.

Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union) emphasized yesterday that the bill, A-4537/S-3108, wouldn’t expand eligibility for use of the substance, which is the grounds that Christie gave earlier this month for rejecting the bill.

Christie has said he is “done” expanding the medical marijuana program, alleging that supporters are seeking to ultimately legalize marijuana in New Jersey.

As recently as September, Christie signed a measure that expanded the number of plant strains treatment centers can grow and allowed children to take an ingestible form of medical marijuana.

But he also vetoed an earlier version of the bill that would have reduced the number of doctors that must approve use of the substance by juvenile patients. And he appears unwilling to go further in shoring up a program that he opposes but has been forced to implement.

Access to medical marijuana continues to be problematic nearly four years after former Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act into law the day before Christie took office.

While Greenleaf Compassion Center became the first treatment center in the state when it opened in Montclair a year ago, it was closed for much of this year.

However, Compassionate Care Foundation has now opened a center in Egg Harbor and Compassion Care Center of America has begun registering patients at a facility in Woodbridge.

Stender contended that the pending legislation doesn’t expand access, but just establishes a reciprocal relationship with other states that allows New Jerseyans to get medical marijuana in other states and for approved patients from other states to get the substance in New Jersey.

“The bill in front of you does nothing to expand eligibility as to who can be in this program,” Stender told the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee during a hearing on the bill yesterday.

Stender has been a proponent of expanding access to the program for children, citing the example of 2-year-old Vivian Wilson, whose family has said a strain of marijuana dispensed in Colorado could benefit their daughter. Vivian has Dravet syndrome, a condition that causes seizures. Her family has run into challenges finding edible marijuana in the state that could benefit her.

“Our program is not functioning properly – it has been very slow, it’s new territory, there are challenges with it,” Stender said. “But as a result, that child (Wilson) and other children are not getting the medicine they need.”

Stender said a 15-month-old baby recently died from complications from Dravet syndrome while waiting for approval for medical marijuana. While Stender said she doesn’t know whether this baby would have benefited from an out-of-state marijuana strain, the situation heightened the urgency to take action.

“There are real serious issues for people who need this medicine and this will help them to get it,” Stender said.

She added that any family with a child approved for medical marijuana should be able to bring it from another state “and not be concerned that as you get off the airplane, having brought medical marijuana in from another jurisdiction, that you are going to be arrested and have your child taken away from you.”

The state chapters of the National Association of Social Workers and the Drug Policy Alliance support the bill.

The Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee released the bill on a party-line 7-4 vote. The Senate version of the bill has been referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.