The Christie administration seems determined to sabotage New Jersey’s new medical marijuana law by saddling it with even more restrictive rules. The law is known as the “Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.” But the proposed rules to implement it are anything but compassionate, and would make it very difficult for patients to obtain the drug legally.
The long-awaited draft regulations released last week were a big disappointment to advocates and thousands of sick and dying patients who believe marijuana can help relieve their suffering. If adopted, the regulations proposed by the state Department of Health and Senior Services would make only a weak strain of marijuana available to a select few patients lucky enough to qualify and who can afford the biannual $200 fee for a registry card.
After watching other states that legalized medical marijuana make mistakes, New Jersey officials justifiably wanted to proceed cautiously. Christie was even given a three-month extension to draft the regulations. But the proposed rules his administration has come up with go far beyond the tough restrictions already in the law by putting up unnecessary roadblocks to how the drug is dispensed. As a former federal prosecutor, Christie should be upholding the law, not undermining it.
For example, the new rules say a patient must have one of nine diseases or conditions, must have been treated by a doctor for at least a year, or seen four times by a doctor. Then they must pass scrutiny by a state-appointed review panel. A year is a long time for chronically or terminally ill patients with “debilitating medical conditions,” such as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis.
The law took effect Oct. 1, but it is unlikely that any medical marijuana will be available before summer. Patients have waited long enough for that treatment option. The rules limit the potency of THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana, to 10 percent. Patients could receive up to 2 ounces of medical marijuana a month. Only two growers would be selected by the state to supply medical marijuana to four dispensaries, or alternative treatment centers. The law called for at least six centers that could grow and sell marijuana.
The administration’s changes were unnecessary. New Jersey lawmakers did a good job in writing a tough law that avoided the pitfalls made in states such as California, where the medical marijuana industry became a booming recreational pot business with rampant abuses. New Jersey has a chance to re-draft the regulations after a public hearing and make them more reasonable. The state must live up to the intent of the law to ease pain and suffering.