New Jersey Cannabis Policy Update

By Michael Chazukow, Outreach Director NJ NORML

NEW JERSEY: Cannabis activists are getting many exciting gifts this December.  Uruguay became the first nation ever to legalize the production and sale of marijuana. We are celebrating the one year anniversary of the votes that legalized recreational MJ in Washington and Colorado.  New York representatives announced the introduction of a tax and regulate bill.

Here in New Jersey, the state legislature had 2 related votes this week. The New Jersey industrial hemp bill is progressing virtually unopposed through the state legislature.  But another bill amending NJ’s medical marijuana law is getting opposition from the governor.  This means 2 & 1/2 year old Vivian Wilson is going to have a difficult holiday because Governor Christie is trying to deny her access to her seizure medicine. 

The NJ Governor stated: “Every time you sign one expansion then the advocates come back and ask for another.  Here is what the advocates want. They want legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. It will not happen on my watch…Ever.”

Hold on a second, Governor.  The bill is a medical bill, not legalization.  The idea for the bill came from Brian and Megan Wilson whose daughter suffers from a severe form of epilepsy.  They are registered under the NJ Compassionate Care program but New Jersey is not able to produce or even test the potency of the type of medicine Vivian needs. The proposed amendment (A4537/S3108) is for a reciprocity law.  Reciprocity would allow qualified medical marijuana patients like the Wilson’s to import medicines from other states.  Without it, despite previous amendments to NJ MMJ laws, Vivian is still unable to get her medicine. “I am done expanding the medical marijuana program under any circumstances. So we’re done.” The cooperation between states is a two way street. If passed, a reciprocity law would allow out-of-state patients to be covered under NJ MMJ laws and purchase medical marijuana while in New Jersey, but it does not grant access to anyone that is not already a qualified medical marijuana patient.  Instead of discouraging out-of-state patients from visiting New Jersey we should allow them to lawfully obtain their prescription medications. The governor should welcome the contributions of out-of-state dollars into the New Jersey budget. “And the program works fine for people who are truly ill.” Vivian Wilson is truly ill.  The Wilsons are explaining clearly how this program can be improved to assist them in caring for Vivian. This bill is a reasonable and straightforward solution.  Additionally, out-of-state resources and cooperation could prove invaluable towards saving New Jersey both time and money as we struggle with the implementation of the Compassionate Care Act.   This is not expansion to legalization; it is correcting the implementation of our medical marijuana program, which is failing to serve its participants.

“And I would tell you again that there’s no outpouring of people signing up for this program. This is another one of those narrow group-think policies put forward by the Legislature and I’m not going to continue to expand it. Because what they want is legalization. They’re not getting legalization under this governor. They’ll have to elect someone else and they don’t get another chance for that for four years.”

Not agreeing with legalization advocates is a poor excuse to deny seizure medicine to a little girl.  It is beyond disappointing that Chris Christie has abandoned his compassion.  Fortunately, this bill is moving through congress in spite of the governor’s comments, so far. Yesterday the NJ Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee narrowly voted in favor of reciprocity along party lines. I’m not sure if the governor even read the bill before making his comments in opposition.  These quotes are from December 2nd but I’m not aware of any change in his position.  The Governor needs to recognize that his objections are unfounded. This is not expansion to legalization. Until the governor responds to the reciprocity issue (instead of responding with his position on legalization) I urge our representatives not to listen to Governor Christie but to vote with their conscience. When this bill reaches the governor’s desk, I expect the governor to recognize that the NJ medical marijuana program does not work fine, that it indeed has numerous flaws.  This why there is no outpouring of people signing up for the program.  I expect him to sign the reciprocity bill into law just like the last amendment, S2842.  After signing that amendment, which eliminated the limit on the number of medical marijuana strains allowed and also allowed concentrated edible medical marijuana for children, the governor proudly declared, “I’ve said all along that protection of our children remains my utmost concern, and this new law will help sick kids access the program while also keeping in place appropriate safeguards. Parents, not government regulators, are best suited to decide how to care for their children, and this law advances that important principle.” Governor Christie, you have another opportunity to further this principle by signing the medical reciprocity bill.  New Jersey expects you to stay true to this principle.  Let common sense guide your judgment once more. Renew your commitment to protect New Jerseys’ sick children. Although national and global trends are shifting towards legalization, you are wrong about this bill. You are right about one thing though; advocates will never stop asking the government to improve.