TRENTON – Sources said Gov. Chris Christie is planning to give his approval to begin administration of the state’s compassionate care medical marijuana program, widely regarded as the most restrictive in the nation.
The state received a federal memo regarding prosecution of the compassionate care program before Christie left on his vacation.
Asked Monday about the federal memo, Christie said he had yet to make a determination on the program. Today, the governor has called a press conference at 2 p.m. to announce he will be going forward, most likely with caution.
He made his decision following N.J. Attorney General Paula Dow’s review of a U.S. Department of Justice memo, a response to New Jersey’s inquiry about the risk of prosecution of government workers. Analysts from the medical marijuana industry, law enforcement, and legal professions who spoke to State Street Wire said the federal memo gave no immunity to state workers, but did clarify the type of federal prosecutions that could transpire.
Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole, who wrote the memo, said the government will prosecute “large scale, privately operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers.” He also said that availability of resources can be an important factor for U.S. Attorneys to determine enforcement of federal laws in the state.
Christie is approving the program, although the memo also left the door open to prosecution of anyone who is not a patient or caretaker. One source said the Attorney General’s Office was leery of enacting the program in its recommendation to the governor.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, (D-15), of Princeton, sponsored the bill and teamed up with Christie when the governor enacted a regulatory override that has the program regarded as the most stringent in the nation. Gusciora burned some bridges politically in his own party to bring the process to fruition. As the prosecution question has lingered, Gusciora said Christie was never going to get “blanket immunity” and urged him to begin the program on July 1.
A few of the stakeholders in the program told State Street Wire last week that they were glad Christie was taking precautions before starting the program.
The Christie administration authorized six alternative treatment centers in March, nonprofit organizations that will be allowed to grow and sell marijuana to approved patients. Some of the approved dispensaries have politically-connected board members or associates, including Compassionate Sciences Alternative Treatment Center, where Webster Todd Jr., brother of former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, sits on the board.
The center’s spokesperson, Andrei Bogolubov, told State Street Wire last week regarding potential prosecution for dispensary employees. “That’s a really important risk,” he said. “It’s actually one of the reasons that we found the New Jersey program so attractive, given that it’s a very restrictive program. It’s more defensible.”
Insiders point to Montana as a medical marijuana system that has little restraint, legally indefensible by comparison. A Trenton source told State Street Wire that the most recent federal memo may have been crafted for Montana law enforcement who sought prosecution of egregious abuses of the new program based on federal laws, more so than as an answer to New Jersey’s question about prosecution of state employees.
Federal agents in Montana brought indictments against a half dozen marijuana providers after March raids of over two dozen businesses, residences, and warehouses in some of which they found weapon caches.
Washington, D.C., recently approved a medical marijuana program, joining 16 states with programs that vary by degree. Four states, including New Jersey, have dispensaries that are regulated by the state government, and New Jersey also has strict potency limits and excess plant destruction by the state police.