Pubdate: Thu, 01 Sep 2011 Source: Daily Record, The (Parsippany, NJ) Copyright: 2011 The Daily Record Contact: http://www.dailyrecord.com Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/112 Author: Bob Jordan, Statehouse Bureau MEDICAL MARIJUANA COULD BOOST NJ ECONOMY, PROPONENTS SAY TRENTON -- With New Jersey in need of an economic boost, medical marijuana advocates say the state should not overlook the lift the drug can provide when it's expected to become legally available at the end of the year. The newly minted medical marijuana law will allow New Jersey to begin cashing in on what is a nearly $2 billion market for states with similar laws, Thomas Leto, president of the U.S. Medical Marijuana Chamber of Commerce, said at a news conference Wednesday. Leto speculated there will be a surge of new New Jersey residents -- those exiting neighboring states, such as New York, where the drug isn't legal. =93There will be new spending, new jobs and new businesses,=94 Leto said. Leto said 20 companies traded on the New York Stock Exchange have investments in marijuana dispensaries and ancillary businesses. New Jersey is joining 15 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing the growing, sale and use of medical pot. Ken Wolski of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana said he's hopeful New Jersey's program will launch by the end of the year, noting that Gov. Chris Christie directed the state health department to begin setting up the program in July. Christie conducted a lengthy vetting of the enabling legislation, which was passed while Gov. Jon S. Corzine was in office. The new law removes statewide penalties for the possession and use of up to 2 ounces of marijuana a month when a New Jersey-licensed doctor recommends it for patients with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other qualifying conditions. Wolski said the law has flaws -- including severe potency restrictions on the marijuana -- but it's a step in the right direction. =93No patient should ever suffer needlessly because we don't have a program, and no patient should ever go to jail for following a doctor's orders,=94 Wolski said. Department of Health and Senior Services officials said the program remains on track to open soon. So far 99 physicians have registered to participate and six distribution centers =93are all in various stages of preparing to open,=94 department spokeswoman Donna Leusner said . =93The patient registry will be open when the (centers) report to the department that they are close to being able to provide medicinal marijuana to eligible patients,=94 Leusner said. The other states allowing medical pot are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Medical marijuana is a $1.7 billion market in states where the drug is legal, according to a report released in March by See Change Strategy, a financial analysis firm. Christie has touted New Jersey's program as a model because it serves a narrow group of patients and limits dispensing to six sites. The law doesn't affect a prohibition on personal cultivation, and it requires background checks for caretakers who pick up marijuana on behalf of others. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.