Pubdate: Sat, 17 Aug 2013
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2013 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Julia Terruso


He Said He Would Back Edible Marijuana for Young Patients, but He 
Insisted on Two Changes.

Gov. Christie told the Legislature on Friday that he would ease 
restrictions on minors using medical marijuana, but only if certain 
stipulations remained in place.

The governor returned a medical-marijuana bill (S-2842) with 
recommended changes, saying he supported legalizing edible forms of 
marijuana and additional strains better suited to minors, but 
rejected a provision that would decrease the number of physician 
referrals required for a minor's entry into the program.

Christie, who has insisted on strict regulations since inheriting the 
program three years ago, said he would sign the bill if the 
Legislature made two changes: specify that the edible form of the 
drug be given only to minors, and require multiple doctors' referrals 
for minors.

Christie vetoed the portion of the bill that would allow minors to 
enter the program with one doctor's referral, citing the importance 
of taking extra precaution, since children may react to the drug 
differently from adults. Currently, the program re quires minors to 
get consent letters from two doctors (a psychiatrist and a 
pediatrician), only one of which needs to be registered with the 
program. The bill would have simplified the process to one physician 
approval, which Christie vetoed.

"Protection of our children remains my utmost concern," Christie said 
in the memo to the Senate, "and our regulations must make certain 
that children receive the care they need, while remaining 
well-guarded from potential harm."

Christie's veto comes two days after the father of a 2-year-old who 
is enrolled in the program approached him at a campaign event in 
Scotch Plains and asked him to pass the bill, saying, "Please don't 
let my daughter die."

Brian Wilson's daughter Vivian has a rare form of epilepsy that could 
kill her. His family has said they were running out of time waiting.

Vivian's mother, Meghan, said Friday that she was glad Christie 
agreed to expand the number of marijuana strains available, allowing 
participants like her daughter to get the medicine they needed. But 
she couldn't understand the need for multiple doctors letters, 
particularly a psychiatrist's.

"I don't think it's fair to make parents who are at their wits' end 
run around the state chasing doctors for letters," she said. "Unless 
the child is being treated for a psychiatric condition, a 
psychiatrist has no role in this."

She said few doctors in New Jersey understood their role in the 
process, mistaking a letter of support for a prescription.

"Parents are climbing this uphill battle trying to explain," she 
said, "and I think the state owes it to all of us to provide 
education so [physicians] understand."

Wilson said it was unlikely her daughter would get the kind of 
marijuana she needed for at least a year. Once a bill is passed, the 
strain would need to be cultivated, likely from the West Coast, made 
into an edible form, and approved by the Department of Health. Just 
growing the marijuana takes three months.

New Jersey's only operational dispensary isn't currently seeing 
patients, Wilson said. "It's going to take a long time. It's not like 
Vivian can go get medicine tomorrow," she said, "which is a shame 
because she needs it today."

A primary sponsor of the bill, Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D., Union), 
said that while he was pleased to see some portions of the bill go 
through, the delay would prolong help for patients in need.

"If you know someone who gets diagnosed with something very, very 
serious, who is going to pass away in six to eight months, they have 
virtually no opportunity to get the relief they need," Scutari said.

He said that he would meet with senators Monday to decide how to 
proceed, but that he was inclined to go along with the changes to get 
the bill passed.

Roseanne Scotti, director of New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance, an 
advocacy group for drug-policy reform, said Christie was overlooking 
key groups of people by allowing edible medicine only for minors. She 
cited the elderly and people with advanced illnesses such as multiple 
sclerosis or ALS.

In April, Christie proposed a $1.6 million budget for the 
three-year-old medical-marijuana program - more than twice the 
current spending plan - in anticipation that more dispensaries would 
open this year.

With only one dispensary authorized to open, the program has been 
slow to progress. Two additional dispensaries are expected to open in the fall.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom