Gov. Chris Christie sends back medical marijuana bill
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday sent back a medical marijuana bill that could expand options for patients seeking the drug and make it easier for children to qualify for the program.
The governor signaled that he would sign the bill if the Legislature made two changes:
-- That edible forms of marijuana would be available to qualified minors only, not for everyone;
-- That both a pediatrician and a psychiatrist should sign off on a child's prescription
Current law allows New Jersey patients to get medical marijuana, but the bill, S2842, would eliminate a limit on the number of marijuana strains that the state's dispensaries can cultivate -- ostensibly making it more likely that they would carry versions that certain patients seek.
It also would simplify the application process for minors, who currently are required to obtain three letters of support -- from the prescribing physician, a pediatrician and a psychiatrist. The bill would require minors, like adults, to obtain a single letter.
Additionally, the bill would permit the packaging and distribution of medical marijuana in edible form -- adding to the current dry-leaf and lozenge options.
Christie's decision comes under pressure from an epileptic girl's father, who contends the bill would make it easier for her to get a version of the drug that might help her.
Brian Wilson's 2-year-old daughter, Vivian, suffers a version of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome. Normal epilepsy medications have so far failed to work for Vivian, and her family believes a certain type of medical marijuana -- one with high levels of cannabidiol, or CBD -- may be able to help. High-CBD strains of marijuana have helped other patients with Dravet Syndrome.
Vivian is cleared to receive medical marijuana, but the state's sole currently operating dispensary, limited by law to offering only three strains, does not offer the high-CBD marijuana her family seeks.
Trying to get an answer on the bill but unable to get a meeting with the governor, Wilson and members of his family on Wednesday crashed a small Christie campaign stop at a local diner in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. They beseeched the governor to sign the bill.
"I was wondering what the holdup was; it's been like two months now," Wilson said to Christie.
Christie responded that while the decision may be simple for Wilson, it's not as easy for the Republican governor. Christie is thought to be a major contender for his party's 2016 nomination for president.
"These are complicated issues," Christie told Wilson.
"I know you think it's simple and it's not."
Christie has in the past expressed trepidation about marijuana. "I am not going to turn New Jersey into Colorado and California. I'm not legalizing marijuana in New Jersey," he said in July.
As for children, Christie said he was "very reluctant."
In separate remarks, Christie said that for the medical marijuana bill, "I'm concerned about expanding the program and I want to make sure that if we do it we do it in a way that is helpful to children," he said.
Christie worried about going "down the slippery slope of broadening a program and making it easier to get marijuana that wouldn't necessarily go to other people."
Regardless of whether Christie signs the bill, it appears Vivian may soon have access to high-CBD marijuana. A dispensary expected to offer a high-CBD version is scheduled to open in New Jersey later this year, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
Vivian's family also supports the bill because it would allow her to get marijuana in edible oil form. Vivian's family prefers this form to lozenges -- which they say is a choking hazard and contains sugar, which is inadvisable for her condition -- and smoking.
The Wilson family and their supporters have a website called Letters for Vivian where they urge people to write Christie and ask him to support the measure. The letter says that the type of medical marijuana they want for Vivian has no "high," with far less tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, than in recreational marijuana. THC is the active ingredient that gets people high.
According to the letter, Vivian has been signed up for medical marijuana, but she "has not received any medication due to New Jersey's overreaching and unsafe restrictions" on the medical marijuana program.
Opinions on the use of marijuana, particularly for medical purposes, have shifted in the United States in recent years, with a growing chorus that it should be made available by prescription.
For his part, Christie promised a response on the medical marijuana bill soon. "I'll have a decision by Friday," he said to Wilson. "I wish for the best for you, your daughter and your family, and I'm going to do what I think is best for the people of the state."
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