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Nj Governor Proposes Nation's Most Restrictive Medical Marijuana Program

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Mans inhumanity towards man.






When former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signed medical marijuana legislation into law earlier this year as one of his last act's in office, activists cautiously celebrated, well aware that the state's program would be the strictest in the country, limiting both the number of dispensaries and participants to those suffering from just a few specific severe chronic illnesses like multiple sclerosis -- while barring patients from growing their own medicine. They also had reason to fear that Corzine's Republican successor, Chris Christie -- who criticized the law as too lax while on the campaign trail -- would do his best to scuttle the program.


Those fears have proven to be well founded.


On October 6th, Department of Health Commissioner Poonam Alaigh, a Christie-appointee, unveiled the state's plan for implementing the medical marijuana program -- and it has activists and the law's authors outraged. While the law itself calls for six "alternative treatment centers" to be placed throughout the state, New Jersey's draft regulations would allow just two of the centers to actually grow marijuana; just four would be allowed to distribute it. That means just one federal raid could potentially shut down the state's entire medical marijuana distribution system, leaving patients who would be completely dependent on that system without access to their doctor-prescribed medication.


And that just might be the governor's intent.


"The entire set of regulations seems to be a poltical move based on how restrictive you can make a medical marijuana program, rather than a reasonable set of regulations that follows the intent of the law," activist Chris Goldstein of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey (CMMNJ) says in an interview with Change.org. (Read more after the jump.)


Beyond just limiting distribution, the Christie administration is subverting the law in several ways that have nothing to do with science but everything to do with discouraging participation in the program. In one particularly arbitrary and capricious move, the draft regulations propose limiting the amount of THC -- marijuana's chief psychoactive ingredient -- in the state's medical cannabis to just 10 percent, which is roughly the average potency of pot seized by the federal government, according to the University of Mississippi Cannabis Potency Monitoring Project. It's also about half the amount contained in your standard California strain.


And amazingly, despite already forcing patients to subsist on substandard weed, the Christie administration is proposing to limit growers to producing just three strains, which must be labeled "low, medium, or high" (Question: How many people would choose to buy "low" strain of already low-grade weed?). Dispensaries are also barred from selling cannabis-based food products, another move that has no scientific justification -- if anything, eating marijuana is safer than inhaling burning plant matter, and the FDA already allows doctor's to prescribe Marinol, a synthetic form of straight THC that patients ingest.


Oddly, the regulations do allow for cannabis lozenges, though, which will no doubt be welcome news to what appears to be their exclusive manufacturer.


The program also won't be up and running until July 2011 -- or at least it "should be," according to the Department of Health -- a full year and a half after the authorizing legislation was signed into law, ostensibly so regulators can "implement a safe and secure program that avoids some of the unintended consequences seen in other states’ programs."


But despite withering criticism from the very people the program is supposed to help -- the rules are "appalling and will hurt patients in a big way," says Michael Olivieri, who suffers from muscular dystrophy -- as well as sponsors of the legislation, with state Senator Nicholas Scutari saying the limit on which dispensaries can grow is "clearly not allowed" and appears designed to "strangle" the program, a defiant Christie is standing by the regulations.


"I heard they wanted a restrictive program that was going to cover just those people who truly had exhausted every other alternative," Christie told reporters. "If people fit that criteria, they are going to be able to access this program," he added, saying the regulations were intended to insure "distribution is medicinal, not recreational."


Of course, Christie's dedication to ensuring prescribed drugs are only used as medicine would be a little more admirable were his state not a leading manufacturer of powerful prescription narcotics like Oxycontin and Percocet -- and were those powerful drugs, which often are enjoyed recreationally and at much greater risk to the user than pot, not available in hundreds of pharmacies across the state.


"Overall, these regulations are just unworkable," says Goldstein of CMMJ. "They were supposed to create a pathway to access, and not create as many barriers as possible, which is what these regulations do." He says activists, including CMMJ's board of directors, are still planning their response, but that they intend to make clear to Governor Christie and Health Commissioner Alaigh that the draft rules and their "homogenized, pharmaceutical approach to marijuana" are a non-starter.


A spokesman for Senator Scutari says the lawmaker is currently weighing his next course of action to ensure his bill is implemented as written.


The state Department of Health, meanwhile, will be hosting an "informal" information session for people interested in running one of the state's medical marijuana centers. A public hearing on the rules has yet to be announced.


In the meantime, check out the video below from the Star-Ledger to get an idea of the type of people who the Christie administration's overly stringent regulations will hurt the most (and a hint: it's not drug dealers or recreational users). And if you want to make a difference, activists say the best thing you can do right now is e-mail Governor Christie and Commissioner Alaigh directly and let them know that their handling of the state's medical marijuana program is unacceptable.

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