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Christie administration is wrong on medical marijuana

July 19, 2010

Wild marijuana plant, Tadapani
Image by Dey via Flickr

Published: Monday, July 19, 2010, 6:39 AM

By Paul Armentano

The Christie administration is contemplating making the nation’s most restrictive medical marijuana law even more restrictive. Lawmakers do so at the expense of patients’ well being.

To review: In January, after years of debate, then-Gov. Jon Corzine signed legislation making New Jersey the 14th state to allow for the use of medical cannabis by qualified patients. It authorizes select patients with a physician’s recommendation to possess and obtain medical cannabis from up to six state-authorized “alternative treatment centers.”

Unlike the laws in 13 others states, state-qualified patients are not legally permitted to grow their own marijuana, nor are they allowed to use it to mitigate the symptoms of chronic painful conditions.

Yet these safeguards apparently provide little comfort to Gov. Chris Christie. The governor has proposed amending state law so that patients would only be eligible to obtain medical cannabis in state hospitals. He has also proposed limiting the cultivation of marijuana to a single supply source at Rutgers University.

Lawmakers ought to oppose to these amendments, which are unnecessary and, if enacted, would make New Jersey’s law totally unworkable for patients.

How so? Consider this: For over nine years the University of Massachusetts has sought unsuccessfully to cultivate marijuana for medical research purposes. The university even went so far as to file a legal challenge with the Drug Enforcement Administration — which it won — to gain permission to grow pot. Yet in 2009 the DEA’s acting director overruled the agency’s own administrative law judge in order to prohibit UMass from growing even a single marijuana plant, saying that would violate international conventions. It is unlikely that a similar plan at Rutgers University would be met with any greater success.

Moreover, centralizing the supply of medical-grade cannabis severely limits patients’ options. Different strains of marijuana vary in their therapeutic prowess based on their percentages of distinct components known as cannabinoids. By limiting patients’ legal access to only one or two specific varieties of cannabis, lawmakers are needlessly consolidating the total number of patients that may be helped.

Finally, it is burdensome and unnecessary to limit patients’ use of medical marijuana solely to hospitals. As stated in 1988 by the DEA’s own administrative law judge, “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” The plant’s compounds are virtually non-toxic to healthy cells and organs, do not depress the central nervous system and are incapable of causing a fatal overdose .

Seriously ill patients in New Jersey have already waited years for legislative relief and safe access to medical marijuana. Lawmakers should reject any further amendments or delays to the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

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