‘Bigger issue’ at stake in medical marijuana debate

TRENTON – A political issue other than medical marijuana billowed in Committee Room 1 this afternoon as senators debated: namely the integrity of the legislature itself, and in this case the state Senate, at stake whenever Gov. Chris Christie takes a pen and redrafts work already passed in the upper house, and cuts deals with assemblymen without the senators’ knowledge, according to committee members.

Feeling burned by an administration they say neutered their pot bill, state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) and state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic City) today sought to re-up medical marijuana rules in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, doubling back to fine-print how doctors can legally administer medical marijuana to patients.

Their effort sparked early back and forth between Whelan and state Sen. Sean Kean (R-Wall), a GOP supporter of the initial bill that Whelan says Christie later drained of nearly all worth. 

“Won’t it delay the delivery of medical marijuana?” Kean wanted to know, suggesting Whelan’s and Scutari’s efforts represented “form over substance” while patients are now suffering. 

“There would be some delay, but we’re this close to getting it right,” Whelan said. “If we have to take another month to get the law to the intent of the bill, it’s worth taking that time. …My hope is to get regulations consistent with the legislation.”

Siding with Kean, state Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R-Evesham) directed the committee’s attention to an agreement on the bill between Christie and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton) in the lower house.

“We weren’t consulted at all on that so-called agreement,” Whelan said.  “There are some real problems where this is not based on any medical or scientific opinions.”

Whelan said the version endorsed by Gusciora and Christie amounts to an aspirin and almost defeats the purpose of enabling medical marijuana. 

“It’s based on gutting the bill” as much as possible, he explained.

The proposed update to the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act would require doctors to periodically attempt to stop a patient’s medical use of marijuana or decrease the amount authorized. It would also require additional confirmation from a pediatrician “(if the minor’s physician is not a pediatrician) and, in all cases, from a psychiatrist, that the minor patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefits from the medical use of marijuana.”

State Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Fairlawn) addressed the disconnect between the governor and the Senate, what he identified as a “bigger issue.”

“We passed the law and we expect the governor to authorize it as we passed it,” said Gordon.

‘Bigger issue’ at stake in medical marijuana debate