Christie green-lights medical marijuana; says he wouldn’t have prosecuted program as U.S. Attorney

TRENTON – After months of delay New Jersey’s medical marijuana program will be off and running in short time, said Gov. Chris Christie in his press conference today.

Christie said the prosecution of state workers is unlikely given a U.S. Department of Justice memo and comments from President Barack Obama.

Christie said the Department of Health contacted the six state-approved alternate treatment centers today communicating the program’s green light. The center will now begin on opening their facilities and distributing the product immediately, and Christie said he would be “disappointed” if medical marijuana wasn’t available before the end of the year.

Workers at the centers shouldn’t have much worry about federal prosecution, Christie said, “As long as the dispensaries operate within the law.”

Christie said, as a former U.S. Attorney, that he is “uniquely situated” to make “an evaluation of what federal law enforcement would or would not do.”

“I believe, based on my background in law enforcement,” he said, “it’s a risk worth taking.” With the caveat that he is not a law enforcement official, Christie said if he was still operating as U.S. Attorney he would not have used federal resources to prosecute the program. He also said, “I have not spoken to the U.S. Attorneys about this.”

What put him over the top were 2010 editorial board comments by presidential candidate Barack Obama, who said, “We’ve got lots of other things for our law enforcement officers to deal with.”

The memo, drafted by Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole, was a response to New Jersey’s inquiry about federal prosecution under the state law. The memo, as analysts said, only protects in name patients and caregivers; it points out likely law enforcement action against “large scale, privately operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers.” The Cole Memo also lays the groundwork for U.S. Attorneys to prosecute as far as their resources stretch.

“It gave more of a hint than previous memos have,” Christie said. “I think they were clearly trying to give us a signal (on prosecution of state workers).”

The memo did not give delineation on age of patients that would be clear of federal prosecution – as a previous memo did – but Christie said he’s not reluctant. Patients who are minors in New Jersey must have their parent or guardian obtain and administer the drug for them. Christie also cautioned physicians to work within the strict guidelines set before them.

New Jersey’s medical marijuana law was passed in the last day of former Gov. Jon Corzine’s administration. “I made clear that this was not the law that I would have signed,” he said, during his campaign for governor. But as chief executive, he was left only to deal with the regulatory aspects of the law, which he fought with legislators over, finally making the program “a very, narrow and medically-based program” that exists today, Christie said.

Since then he’s been working to secure the “greatest protection from federal intervention” for state workers that he could, seeking clarification from the federal government. The Cole Memo was convincing to Christie, but, “The Obama comments really just further affirmed my instinct.”

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, (D-15), of Princeton, sponsored the bill and worked against some in his party to provide the governor with a Democratic ally to further restrict regulation of the program. Today, Christie thanked him for his patience although Gusciora could not make the press conference.

The Democratic legislator said in a statement, “As the sponsor of the original bill, I had hoped for some of the restrictions to be lifted. However, as I said all along, I would rather we address these issues over the long-term so that we can get the program up and running as quickly as possible. I am confident that other aspects of the law, like the THC strength, will be continually evaluated throughout the process by the Department of Health and Human Services and I look forward to hearing their findings down the road.”

Christie green-lights medical marijuana; says he wouldn’t have prosecuted program as U.S. Attorney