Pubdate: Thu, 07 Jul 2011
Source: Advertiser-News, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2011 Straus Newspapers
Note: Please specify The Advertiser-News as source
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)

Medical Marijuana


Dispensing in NJ at a Standstill As Questions Are Still Unanswered

TRENTON -- Advocates say they will consider suing the state if Gov. 
Chris Christie continues to stand in the way of implementing a law 
that legalizes marijuana for medical use.

But they're not enthusiastic about that possibility.

"I would hope that would be a last option. A court case can drag on 
for years and our concern is patients having access now," said 
Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Christie has not yet responded to a memo released last Thursday by 
the U.S. Justice Department that says marijuana dispensaries and 
licensed growers in states with medical marijuana laws could face 
prosecution for violating federal drug and money-laundering laws.

Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, says the governor is awaiting 
advice from Attorney General Paula Dow, who is still reviewing the 
letter. Christie has been especially concerned about whether state 
employees could be prosecuted for their role in regulating medical 
marijuana, and the first-term Republican governor recently said he 
wanted some assurances before moving forward.

"The federal government is saying medical marijuana is against the 
law. Until I get that assurance, I cannot ask people to do things 
that they might get prosecuted (for) by federal prosecutors," 
Christie said in June. "What happens if they get arrested and I 
ordered them to do it? That's wrong."

But advocates and legal experts say Christie, who spent seven years 
as the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, is well aware of the federal law 
and knows federal authorities would never give a blanket assurance 
that they won't prosecute a hypothetical case in the future.

"He knows better as a former U.S. Attorney," said Assemblyman Reed 
Gusciora, who co-sponsored the bill. "He knows they are not going to 
pick on the strictest law in the country."

In her letter to the Justice Department on behalf of the governor, 
Dow specifically asked whether state employees could be prosecuted.

The Thursday memo by Deputy Attorney General James Cole reiterated 
what was in a 2009 memo, in which the Justice Department told 
prosecutors they should not focus investigative resources on patients 
and caregivers complying with state medical marijuana laws. The new 
memo does not give states cover from prosecution, but notes the broad 
discretion local U.S. Attorneys have in their states.

Paul Fishman, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, has not commented on the memos.

A person familiar with Fishman's thinking said it was extremely 
unlikely that he would prosecute state employees who are complying 
with the state's regulatory framework. The person spoke only on 
condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about 
the matter.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the 
medical use of marijuana, with programs in various phases of 
development. New Jersey adopted a law to allow medical marijuana in 
January 2010, just before Christie took office.

While Christie says he supports medical marijuana access for patients 
who need it, he's expressed problems with the law New Jersey passed, 
though it's considered the most restrictive among the states that 
allow medical marijuana.

His administration upset activists because it took months to come up 
with regulations for the industry -- and they're still not finalized. 
Lawmakers have even threatened to nullify Christie's proposed 
regulations, saying they violate the intent of the law.

This year, six nonprofit groups were awarded licenses to grow and 
sell pot to patients with conditions such as terminal cancer, 
glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. Some patients say the drug eases 
pain and nausea. But so far, none has been legally sold because the 
state has not created a registry of patients who can, under state 
law, use the drug.

Some of the groups licensed to grow buds have said they realize they 
would be violating federal law and are willing to risk prosecution to 
launch their businesses. The organizations that are allowed to grow 
and sell marijuana to patients with certain medical conditions are 
not-for-profit but the size of the operations is unclear since they 
haven't been allowed to start dispensing the drug.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom