Christie Considers Changes To Law
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Christie Considers Changes To Law
Posted by CN Staff on June 19, 2010 at 03:42:15 PT
By Geoff Mulvihill, Associated Press
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
New Jersey -- Advocates of medical use of marijuana in New Jersey are buzzing over word that Gov. Christie is floating major changes to the way pot could be legally grown and distributed, before a system already signed into law can take effect. Rutgers University's New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and the New Jersey Hospital Association said Friday that the administration had contacted them in recent weeks about taking a role in producing and distributing medical marijuana.
Both groups said the talks were preliminary and legal issues would need to be worked out first, but both said they're interested. The idea of having the university and hospitals as the sole growers and dispensers was first reported Friday by the Newark Star-Ledger. Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, would not speak about the plans Friday other than to say many options were being considered. Asking Rutgers to oversee cultivation and hospitals to dispense the drug would be a major change to the structure called for in the current law, which is to take effect Oct. 1 but may be delayed. Under the law, at least six private groups would grow and distribute marijuana. Although the idea has been considered elsewhere, designating a state-approved grower would be a radical departure from the practices in the 13 other states that allow medical marijuana. Those states have provisions for approved users to grow their own, and most have another supply chain as well. No state uses hospitals to distribute the drug. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D., Union), a sponsor of the medical marijuana act, said he had reservations about changing the law. "There's nothing that says we have to do it," he said. "We don't want to be overly restrictive." Another key sponsor, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D., Mercer), supports the possible new approach. "If it provides opportunities for Rutgers University to provide research and academic curriculum on the subject, all the better," he said. Gusciora said he hopes lawmakers will decide in the next week or so whether to stick with the current law or switch to a different system. "I don't understand why we would even consider it at this point, after spending four years  going back to the drawing board. I'm sort of speechless," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey director of the Drug Policy Alliance. The advocates also point to possible legal complications for Rutgers and hospitals if they get into the marijuana business, even with the state's support. Although marijuana has been gaining acceptance in some corners of the medical world, the federal government still considers it illegal. Anyone convicted of growing more than 100 plants is subject to a mandatory five-year federal prison term. "This is the biggest legal risk," said Anne M. Davis, a lawyer seeking to open an alternative treatment center to distribute marijuana and one of the state's main experts in marijuana-related law. "I cannot believe that Christie, as a former prosecutor, would take it on." The Obama administration has said it will not prosecute people in the marijuana business who are complying with state medical marijuana laws. But that does not carry the force of law, she said. Rutgers and the hospitals could risk losing their federal funding, Davis said. Robert Goodman, executive director of the agricultural experiment station, said the university had begun exploring the legal issues around growing marijuana. But it's not easy for a university to be allowed to grow pot, even for science's sake. The only place marijuana is grown with the federal government's approval is in a small program at the University of Mississippi. Lyle Craker, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, said he has been seeking permission since 2001 to grow marijuana to study the health effects of various strains. He hasn't been denied permission by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, but he also hasn't been allowed to proceed. Medical marijuana supporters in New Jersey say that if there's a monopoly on legal growing, the quality of the buds may be poor. They also worry that taking time to reconsider the law will hurt patients. "There are sick people right now who need relief," Scotti said. "They are going to the black market. They are putting themselves at risk." Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)Author:  Geoff Mulvihill, Associated PressPublished: June 19, 2010Copyright: 2010 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.URL: Inquirer.Letters phillynews.comWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives 
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