Advocates show mixed feelings about Christie action on medical marijuana bill

TRENTON – One of the state’s leading advocates for medical marijuana had mixed feelings Friday about Gov. Chris Christie’s handling of the bill that will permit minors access to the drug to treat severe conditions.

Ken Wolski of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana said he was glad that Christie moved to lift restrictions on the number of strains that alternative treatment centers would be able to grow and that children will be able to ingest it in edible form.

But he decried what he called the continued over-bureaucracy of the program.

Christie, in amending the bill and sending it back to the Legislature, kept in place the regulation that a parent must get a psychiatrist or a pediatrician who is registered with the program to sign off as well as the doctor involved in the case.

“We still think it’s not right to put added conditions on minors,’’ Wolski said.

He said forcing parents to get concurrence from another professional will be a problem in many instances.

“It will be a stumbling block parents will have to maneuver around,’’ said Wolski, because since less than 1 percent of the physicians in the state have signed up to participate in medical marijuana overall it follows that extremely few pediatricians and psychiatrists are going to participate in the effort to get such treatment for minors.

“It’s bureaucratic-top heavy, but we are glad the limit on strains has been lifted,” he said.

In his message accompanying the amended bill, Christie said that medical review and doctor sign-off before entering the program should be maintained. 

He said that media reports have mischaracterized the current requirements and regulations: while a qualifying minor must be approved by both a pediatrician and a psychiatrist, no additional approvals are required if either one of those physicians is registered with the program. 

Christie’s office said this approach is endorsed by the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Governor believes it should remain in place.

Parents are seeking access to medical marijuana so children suffering from severe seizures that are not treatable through traditional means can have access to treatment that will help alleviate their suffering.

In his message with the bill, Christie said “not every circumstance could have been anticipated when drafting the current regulations governing the sale of medical marijuana.

“Now, based on the State’s experiences designing and implementing this new and novel program, certain limited modifications are appropriate.”

He also said that “removing the current three-strain limitation on medical marijuana that may be cultivated by an ATC (alternative treatment center) will allow dispensaries to develop products tailored to the needs of particular patient populations, and thus provide additional options to those in need.

“While many will disagree with the decision to allow minors access to marijuana, even for serious illnesses, parents should remain empowered to make a choice based on their own reflections, study, and physician consultation,” he said.

Reiterating his concerns about unintended harmful consequences of medical marijuana programs, Christie said in his message to the Legislature that “Notably, at least one recent study has indicated a rise in emergency hospitalizations in Colorado for accidental marijuana ingestion in children.

“Protection of our children remains my utmost concern, and our regulations must make certain that children receive the care they need, while remaining well guarded from potential harm.”

Advocates show mixed feelings about Christie action on medical marijuana bill