Christie gives an inch on medical marijuana regs

TRENTON – The state Assembly sponsor of the medical marijuana law, Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton), stood next to Gov. Chris Christie today and announced a bipartisan compromise, possibly ending a standoff between the executive and legislative branches on how the law would be implemented.

But the compromise only addresses two in a list of concerns advocacy groups had about Christie’s proposed regulations, that being the number of dispensaries and the restrictive doctor certification procedure to receive medical marijuana.

The state legislature has been pressing for a legislative veto of Christie’s regulations. The Assembly passed a concurrent resolution that would need its counterpart in the Senate to find passage in order to overturn the Christie administration’s regulatory interpretation of the law, which Democrats who backed the bill said was misguided.

The Senate resolution was held up because the votes weren’t there to get it passed, according to one of the law’s sponsors, state Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden), who was not at Christie’s announcement today.

The compromise addresses some concerns over the regulations, but certainly not all.

Christie said today that the state will allow for six grow center-dispensaries to be built across the state – two in each of the north, central, and south regions – as was called for in the original version passed before Christie came to office.

The state had set out to reduce the centers to four, but now Christie has been convinced. The planned home delivery system that was proposed in order to reduce the number of dispensaries has been bagged under the new agreement.

The second compromise is over doctor certification for medical marijuana users.

The regs initially called for a doctor to certify that all methods of relief had been exhausted for all of the patient’s conditions – beyond the specific condition enumerated in the law that would allow for marijuana use – before prescribing medical marijuana.

Now the doctor needs only to certify that all methods of relief have been exhausted for the legally-bearing condition, such as glaucoma.

“We’re not making any other changes to the regulations,” Christie said.

Medical marijuana advocates have asked that restrictions on the potency of the marijuana be eased, but Christie didn’t budge.

“All of these issues will be up for a discussion two years from now,” he said. “We don’t know how this is going to work.”

He said he was never against the program, just the specifics of the bill.

Gusciora called the two areas of concern that were addressed “deal breakers” and said the legislature will monitor how the regs are carried out – so long as the compromise stands – before deciding on any other changes.

“This is a monumental day for the people of New Jersey who have been awaiting relief,” he said. “They may not have much time left, and I would rather see that program start sooner rather than later…Politics have been pushed aside.”

Short of this compromise, he said there would have been an impasse and, in effect, no working medical marijuana program at all.

The only way for the compromise to fall through now would be for the Senate to pass their resolution vetoing the regs; but if the votes weren’t there before, they probably won’t be there now.

Scutari, who was called out by Christie for being uncooperative, said he has not decided yet whether to go forth with the Senate resolution vetoing the regulations or to go along with the accord between Christie and Gusciora, especially since he had no idea it was going to be announced.

“I’m still bleeding here,” Scutari said. “When you get stabbed in the back by a member of your own party…”

He was also unhappy that medical marijuana advocates were notably missing from the governor’s announcement today, according to reports he received.

As far as the two issues addressed in the compromise, he said, “Those were two of my biggest concerns.”

Christie said at the press conference that Scutari was reached out to several times, to no avail.

“I was no longer going to sit around and wait for Sen. Scutari to play political games while patients were waiting to get medical treatment,” Christie said.

Christie gives an inch on medical marijuana regs