The New Jersey legislature just approved a bill that would legalize the use of marijuana for medical reasons and would make NJ the first state in the region and the 14th state in the nation to do so. According to a report in the on-line version of the New York Times, the measure (A804 “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.”) will allow patients who are diagnosed with severe illnesses including cancer, AIDS, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis to have access to marijuana through state-monitored dispensaries.
According to the report, out-going Governor Jon S. Corzine has promised to sign it into law before leaving office next Tuesday. Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie made it clear at a press conference before the vote that he would support the bill it it contained safeguards that ensure that it did not encourage the recreational use of the drug.
This law would be the most restrictive in the nation because it would only permit doctors to prescribe marijuana for a list of serious chronic illnesses, according to Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat from Princeton. The legislation would also forbid patients from growing their own marijuana and using it in public, and it would regulate the drug under the strict conditions used to track the distribution of medically prescribed opiates like oxycontin and morphine.
“I truly believe this will become a model for other states because it balances the compassionate use of medical marijuana while limiting the number of ailments that a physician can prescribe it for,” said Mr. Gusciora, who sponsored the bill.
According to the Times, Mr. Christie said he wanted to make sure that New Jersey did not follow the path of other states that have legalized the medical use of marijuana. “I think we see all what’s happened in California,” Mr. Christie said. “It’s gotten completely out of control.”
Approval of the bill was nearly derailed at the 11th hour as some Democratic lawmakers wavered and Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie went to the State House and expressed reservations about it. However, in the end it passed by comfortable margins in both houses: 48-14 in the General Assembly and 25-13 in the State Senate.
Opponents of the New Jersey bill use California’s experience as a cautionary note, saying that medical marijuana is so loosely regulated there that the state has essentially decriminalized the drug. Under California law, residents can legally obtain marijuana to treat a list of maladies as common, and undefined, as anxiety or chronic pain.
Last year, the New Jersey Senate passed a less restrictive version of the proposal, which led opponents of medical marijuana to predict that it would pave the way for California-style “pot centers.” Executive director of the Drug Free School Coalition, David Evans, said that such centers would make marijuana more readily available on the streets and lead to an increase use of drugs by teenagers.
For more information, click here or here for the latest New York Times reports.