By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town
Almost two years after the law was passed, New Jersey lawmakers finally announced last week that the state's medical marijuana program -- the most restrictive medicinal cannabis law in the United States -- would be fully functional sometime in 2012.
Gov. Chris Christie had issued a surprise announcement in July that the state would go forward with its often-stalled medical marijuana program, reports John Farley at Thirteen.
The Garden State's medicinal cannabis program has been in transition for months now. In 2010, the State Senate passed the Compassionate Care Act, which required the state to license six medical marijuana dispensaries.
But even though an overwhelming 86 percent of New Jersey voters support medicinal cananbis, Christie put the program on hold, seeking assurance from federal officials that state marijuana workers and doctors would not be prosecuted, reported the Star-Ledger.
That assurance never came, of course. But Gov. Christie, a former federal prosecutor himself, felt that a memo from the U.S. Department of Justice indicated that agency would follow President Barack Obama's campaign promise in 2008 not to prioritize prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers who were abiding by state laws.
The Cole Memo [PDF] suggested that the federal government did not consider it "an efficient use of resources" to enforce penalties on terminally ill patients using cannabis for medicinal reasons.
In July, Christie gave New Jersey's medical marijuana program the green light. But since that announcement, the program has suffered multiple setbacks, none of which were caused by the federal government.
State zoning boards rejected four of the six proposed grow sites and dispensary locations, supposedly due to worries about weak oversight, along with the usual concern that marijuana is still against federal law and the archaic "not in my back yard" (NIMBY) sentiment among some residents when it comes to cannabis.
But on November 29, the Christie Administration said New Jersey's troubles implementing the system -- including dispensary and greenhouse locations -- had been ironed out and they were confident that the strict rules governing the program would enable it to avoid federal prosecution.
Though the state will not make its original deadline of December 31, 2011, the medical marijuana program will definitely by up and running some time in 2012, reports Susan K. Livio at the Star Ledger.
New Jersey's medical marijuana law is the most restrictive of the 16 states states (plus the District of Columbia) that have such programs, according to Politifact. The state limits cannabis authorizations to patients with terminal illnesses or cases where conventional medication has failed, such as glaucoma or epilepsy.
What's more, doctors in New Jersey can only authorize medicinal cannabis for patients they've been seeing for over than a year.
In New Jersey, nonprofit dispensaries are licensed by the state. "They've [federal prosecutors] never interfered with a dispensary licensed by a state," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "In California, the dispensaries are not state licensed. In Colorado, they are, and we haven't seen any interference in Colorado."
Both the quantity and the quality of cannabis that may be legally possessed is quite limited in New Jersey. State patients may only receive two ounces of marijuana every 30 days.
And in one of those rules that could only have been passed by a Legislature which didn't know what the hell they were legislating about, New Jersey is the first state to limit the potency of medical marijuana, in this case to 10 percent.
Top-shelf medicinal strains in California, Colorado and Washington average closer to 20 percent, meaning New Jersey medical marijuana is by law about half-strength, compared to other states.
Gov. Christie disappointed advocates when he recently appointed a 26-year police veteran who pledged "strict oversight" -- rather than a medical doctor -- to oversee the program.
When, oh when, will medical marijuana patients finally be able to deal exclusively with medical personnel about their medicine?
Article From Toke of the Town and republished with special permission.