N.J. Assembly committee votes to expand medical marijuana program again
TRENTON — A state Assembly committee today voted to give flexibility to New Jersey’s registered medical marijuana patients by allowing them to buy the drug in another state and use it here.
The bill (A-4537) received a brief hearing before it sailed through the Assembly Health Committee at the Statehouse by a vote of 7-4. But its long-term prospects may be in doubt. Gov. Chris Christie has stated he is “done expanding the medical marijuana program under any circumstances” when asked what would happen if the bill reached his desk.
The bill would allow patients enrolled in the state’s program to possess medical marijuana legally obtained from another state program. Patients registered with another state program also be allowed to use their medicine here, according to the bill. New Jersey patients would have to buy a form of marijuana that conforms to the state’s parameters, and would not be allowed to exceed the dose recommended by their doctor.
The idea for the bill came from Meghan and Brian Wilson of Scotch Plains, who earlier this year waged a public battle to loosen the restrictions of the state program for kids on behalf of their 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Vivian, diagnosed with a serious form of drug-resistant epilepsy, Dravet syndrome. The Wilsons had hoped they could buy a rare strain of pot here that is produced in edible form by a Colorado grower that has shown to reduce the severity and frequency of seizures in other children, but does not produce a “high” feeling.
But despite changes Christie made this summer to make a wider variety of marijuana strains and products available, the Wilsons say they are no closer to a remedy. The two operating medical marijuana dispensaries in the state are not producing edible products yet. The Wilsons learned how to cook the product down to an oil, but the state Health Department’s laboratory is not yet capable of testing the product’s potency.
The Wilsons have said they are starting to look for a home in Colorado, but have expressed desire to remain in New Jersey to be close to family, friends and Vivian’s neurologist, a pediatric epilepsy specialist who recently won FDA approval to perform a clinical trial on a marijuana-based drug.
Assemblywoman Linder Stender (D-Union), the bill’s sponsor, said people should not have to leave the state to get what is a legal medicine.
“Our medical marijuana program is not functioning the way it should be and approved participants have not been able to get the medicine they need,” said Stender (D-Union). “In no way will this bill expand any of the requirements for participation.”
“Instead,” she added. “It will allow people who have been approved into the program within the existing limitations to access the strains that they need in the event of a lack of availability within our own program.”
During a press conference last week, Christie said he was “not open to it,” and believes it’s just a back door way to legalize marijuana for everyone.
Brian Wilson called the bill a “great first step to allow patients to access medical cannabis that is not available in New Jersey four years after the (law) passed.”
“The no votes without comment from the Republicans tell the people of New Jersey that they are in lockstep with Gov. Christie in continuing to cause the undue suffering,” he wrote in an email after the vote.
There are 1,500 registered patients in New Jersey’s medicinal marijuana program. Three dispensaries are operating: Greenleaf Compassion Center, Montclair, which opened a year ago this month; Compassionate Care Foundation of Egg Harbor Township, which opened in October, and Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge, which debuted last week.
Twenty states and Washington, D.C. have passed medical marijuana laws.
The bill now heads to the full Assembly.