N.J. Green-Lights Medical Marijuana Program as Calif.’s Goes Up in Smoke

| December 5, 2011 4:00 AM | Updated: January 30, 2012 1:15 PM

Traditional canning jars hold varieties of marijuana in a cabinet at the La Brea Collective medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. Despite a federal crackdown on California's medical marijuana industry, the restrictive nature of New Jersey's pot program means it's probably safe from federal threat. AP/Reed Saxon

Update: Two bills designed to give medical marijuana dispensaries protection from local zoning laws are being pushed forward in the New Jersey legislature, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. Since last summer, four New Jersey towns have used zoning codes to block nascent medical marijuana companies from setting up shop in their backyards.

Nearly two years after it was legalized in New Jersey, lawmakers announced in December that the state’s medical marijuana program, the most restrictive in the country, would be fully functional sometime in 2012.

How high are the risks? Should New York be looking to its historically less-progressive neighbor as a model for effective medical marijuana policy?

Gov. Chris Christie had issued a surprise announcement in July that the state would move forward with its then-stalled medical marijuana program. But since then, federal prosecutors have done something even more surprising: They raided and seized property from medical marijuana growers and dispensaries in California, despite the Obama administration’s indications that they would not crack down on such facilities.

New Jersey’s medical marijuana policy has been in flux for months now. In 2010, the New Jersey State Senate passed the Compassionate Care Act, requiring the state to license six medical marijuana dispensaries. But even though 86 percent of New Jersey voters support medical marijuana, Christie put the program on hold while he awaited word from federal officials that New Jersey marijuana workers and doctors would not be prosecuted, reported the Star-Ledger.

Word never came, but the governor, a former federal prosecutor, felt that a memo from the U.S. Justice Department indicated the agency would stay true to President Barack Obama’s campaign promise in 2008 not to prosecute states that passed medical marijuana legislation, even though it violates federal law. The memo suggested that the federal government did not consider it an efficient use of time to enforce penalties on terminally ill patients seeking marijuana for medicinal reasons. In July, Christie gave medical marijuana the greenlight.

Then, in October, four U.S. attorneys in California announced a tough new agenda to shut down marijuana growers and dispensaries they said were violating the original intent of the state’s law, which was passed back in 1996, the New York Times reported. The federal prosecutors said many of the dispensaries were operating as part of a large-scale, for-profit drug operation, as opposed to dispensing medicine to ill patients. Raids, arrests and property seizures followed, along with job losses in California’s marijuana industry.

Since Christie’s announcement in July, there have been multiple setbacks for New Jersey’s pot program, however, none of them were caused by the federal government. New Jersey zoning boards rejected four of the six proposed grow sites and dispensary locations due to worries about weak oversight, acting in violation of federal law and of course residents’ overwhelming NIMBY fears, reported Yahoo News.

But on Nov. 29, Christie’s administration said the state debacles over dispensary and greenhouse locations had been smoothed out and that they were confident that the stringent laws governing the program would enable it to avoid federal prosecution. Though New Jersey will not make its original deadline of Dec. 31, 2011, the medical marijuana program will definitely be up and running in 2012, reported the Star-Ledger.

So what makes lawmakers think New Jersey’s medical marijuana program is a fairly safe bet? Consider the following facts about the state’s Compassionate Care Act:

  • Sixteen states and Washington D.C. have medical marijuana laws, and New Jersey’s is the most restrictive, according to Politifact. Some other states, like California and Colorado, allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for a host of ailments, including psychological issues like anxiety, and even issue patients multiple prescriptions cards so that the patient’s friends or family can pick up their prescription for them — or, you know, for themselves. New Jersey limits prescriptions to patients with terminal illnesses or illnesses where conventional pain medication has failed, such as glaucoma and epilepsy. Furthermore, a doctor can only prescribe marijuana to a patient they’ve been seeing for over a year.
  • This is a big one: New Jersey’s non-profit dispensaries are all licensed by the state, unlike in California, where they are not required to obtain a state license specifically to sell marijuana. “They’ve [federal prosecutors] never interfered with a dispensary licensed by a state,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director of Drug Policy Alliance. “In California, the dispensaries are not state licensed. In Colorado, they are, and we haven’t seen any interference in Colorado.” Thus, you’re not likely to see dispensaries with giant neon pot signs out front, as is the case out West.
  • The quantity and quality of pot that can be legally possessed is quite limited in New Jersey. A New Jersey patient can only receive 2 ounces of marijuana every 30 days, unlike in California, where patients can buy bundles of the stuff. Furthermore, New Jersey is the first state to limit the potency of medical marijuana, in this case to 10 percent. To put that in perspective, the average marijuana potency in the United States is just over 10 percent. In California, where pot growing in Humboldt County is basically an artisan trade, potency levels reach upwards of 30 percent.

If New Jersey’s program manages to avoid becoming as leniently regulated as it is in California, it’s possible that New York could look to its neighbor as a model. There’s currently a bill in the New York State Senate, sponsored by Senator Tom Duane, which is similar to New Jersey’s. In November, the New York City Council passed a resolution supporting the bill’s passage, reported AM New York. The bill is currently being reviewed by the Committee on Health. Would Gov. Andrew Cuomo sign it into law?

In 2010, Cuomo took a staunch stance against medical marijuana. However, immediately after Christie put his support behind New Jersey’s program, Cuomo changed his tune.

“We’re looking at both sides of the issue…and we’re reviewing it, but we don’t have a final position,” said Cuomo.

It’s unclear where the legislature and Cuomo stand, but at a time when the state is making increasingly heavy budget cuts and experimenting with new capital funding models, government might be catching a strong whiff of the massive tax incentives the industry offers.

In California, medical marijuana is a $1.5 billion a year industry, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. California tax regulators estimate the state receives somewhere between $78 and 105 million in sales taxes annually, and a new ruling that clarifies dispensaries are not tax-exempt businesses is likely to cause those revenues to surge, reported the Los Angeles Times.

  • PoliceDoingDrJobs

    A physician, and only a physician should oversee the medical marijuana institutions. Law enforcement has no business pretending to care for patients, they lack the capacity, and are not qualified to do so, period.
    http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2011/12/11077/ucsf-study-finds-medical-marijuana-could-help-patients-reduce-pain-opiates

    Furthermore, law enforcement and politicians have no business determining potency requirements, again, only physicians are qualified to do so per patient requirements.

  • MMJGal

    As a MMJ patient advocate in Colorado I have to call attention to the ridiculous notion of limiting the medicine’s potency to 10%! Chronically ill patients are usually struggling to make ends meet having to treat illnesses with expensive treatments and drugs. By limiting the medicine’s potency you are forcing the patient to purchase more and putting even more strain on their economics. What does 10% mean anyway? I’m assuming it pertains to the THC level, however, the cannabinoid CBD provides the most medicinal properties so what percentage of that is permitted?

    It will be interesting to see how the growers work to decrease the quality of their product as well. They will have to grow shwag which is the lowest quality medicine. Furthermore, in order to enforce this potency requirement all medicine will have to be tested. Has the state contracted testing companies? Have legal regulations been considered when contracting these agencies? Probably not. Not to mention the high cost of testing medicine, which has not yet been refined, repeated and researched enough to produce consistent results.

    Kudos for moving the program along but I would encourage law makers to make the patient’s best interest the main focus as they continue.

  • Vincent Von Dudler

    I’m glad N.J. is now finally restoring freedom to its people. My only disappointment is that it doesn’t go far enough. It should be legalized for all use by adults – without a prescription. Requiring a prescription for marijuana is more insane that requiring a prescription for alcohol or tobacco. We also need to end federal prohibition and return power to the states. Even if N.J. says marijuana is legal for prescription the federal government expresses that there is no acceptable use medical or otherwise. We need to limit the federal government’s power to cross-border trafficking and we can easily do that by pushing H.R. 2306 – The Ending Federal Prohibition of Marijuana Act through Congress. Pressure your representatives to push this bill along. They won’t act without your pressure.

  • Cal Canna

    How will they test for potency? http://www.weedpotency.com

  • circleV

    The limit on potency is ridiculous, as are the requirements for a doctors recommendation. They are treating THC as if it is dangerous. More people die of asprin every year than marijuana. Additionally, why would you want a medicine to be LESS potent? Furthermrore, why should a safe drug be harder to obtain than a dangerous one? If you go to a doctor and complain about any pain, he / she will perscribe painkillers; adictive narcotics that can result in death or addiction. Yet you have to be on your deathbed to obtain WEAK marijuana legally. Like most government policies, this is absoloutely insane.

  • 333maxwell

    It’s 2011 now.. not 1950.. the money has all been spent now.. sorry.

    All medical benefits aside.. We as a society can’t afford the nonsensical luxury of being frightened of a weed any longer. 80 billion this year alone.. and it NEVER goes down.. this war on weed budget.Simply can’t afford it.. I’d rather spend the last of my money on something radical like food or the power bill.

  • T

    What an in educated ass u are for even trying to right something you call facts. First off nothing has ever been tested over 30%. Genetically it would become pretty tough. Being that thc is a growing part of the plant.(research thc n tricomes). Also the human body very rarely will accept 10% thc when smoked. Most people avg about6-8% potency when medicating with mmj. It would not matter if it was 10-20- or 30% thc. YOUR BODY DOES NOT ACCEPT MORE! And to ease the paranoid uneducated people. You would have to injest a lot more times your body wheight to die from it. And not talking about in one sitting. Not possible!! Most people do not even consume 10lbs of food in a week. IT IS NOT THE DEVIL. It is healthier than prescription drugs cigarets and alcohol. But let’s keep putting the youth of America in jail n messing there lives up!

  • T

    Nj is only going to become just a monopolized marijauna dealer. Not to mention the state ran methadone clinics raking in millions! The state is money hungry. NJ the new weed dealers. this is the begining of control. Within 5-10 years it will be legal with more states adopting mmj policies. N nj will ready to mass produce it for maximized profits!!!!!! Watch!
    This is my opinion and if u dnt like good. I do not care what u think. And I will never prob read this pg again even if n e one replies.

    • Dom M

      I agree that this is just the beginning. A new Gov. will broaden the availability of medical MJ in the future, and other non-terminal illness will be added to the list. Hopefully this is just the crack in the dam, and as the population gets older and the need grows, Med MJ will become more available to those who can benefit, not just those who have no other options. There is still so much wrong with this law, but as I said, this is just the beginning.

  • Duncan20903

    It’s beyond absurd for New York to act as if the State’s pathetic attempts to deal with its addiction problem are somehow superior to California’s. California is by far doing much better than New York State by every objective measure. How about some comparisons about the number of problem users in California compared to New York? California passed the Compassionate Use Act on Election Day 1996 so 1996 was the last year that the CUA was not in effect.

    Very relevant: In 2000 California voters passed Prop 36 into law which requires 1st and 2nd time “drug” offenders be sentenced to “treatment” rather than incarceration.

    In 1996 California had a population of 31,878,000.
    In 2010 that number had increased to 37,253,956 or 16.86%

    In 1996 New York had a population of 18,185,000.
    In 2010 that number had increased to 19,378,102 or 6.56%

    In 1996 there were 172,277 Californians in “treatment” for anything.
    In 2010 that number had decreased to 165,388 or -4.00%

    In 1996 there were 230,003 New Yorkers in “treatment” for anything.
    In 2010 that number had increased to 310,911 or +35.18%

    very relevant: At the end of 2010 the population of New York was 52% of California’s, but had 88.99% more problem users in “treatment” than did California.
    ———-
    In 1996 there were 69,112 Californians in “treatment” for opioids addiction.
    In 2010 that number had decreased to 36,110 or -47.75%

    In 1996 there were 36,127 New Yorkers in “treatment” for opioids addiction.
    In 2010 that number skyrocketed to 76,676 or +112.24%

    In “treatment” numbers courtesy of SAMHSA.
    Population figures courtesy of The Disaster Center.

    California:
    http://wwwdasis.samhsa.gov/webt/quicklink/ca96.htm — change ca96.htm to ca10.htm for 2010 statistics. Substitute ny for ca for the New York numbers.

  • Muzzylu

    Medical marijuana, and all marijuana should be legal! It is helpful to people for pain reduction and other maladies, plus marijuana can be a much less harmful recreational drug than liquor, heroin, crack, and cocaine.
    Great book on medical marijuana: MARIJUANA – Guide to Buying, Growing, Harvesting, and Making Medical Marijuana Oil and Delicious Chocolates to Treat Pain and Ailments by Mary Bendis. This book has great recipe for marijuana oil and tasty, yummy chocolates!

    • jim

      i tried medical chocolate bars they were great brownies but there heavy on my stomach please help me get candy bars or hard candy very sick HELP P.S i am not a cop or any dea or fed i have a terminal illness and i dont like all the morphine they give me

  • double a

    Marijuana remains a schedule I drug while cocaine is schedule II? you ask why? the only logical reaon i could think of is: Corruption!

  • JoeSchmoe

    99% of medical marijuana consumption is recreational… it’s the so called “loop hole” that allow potheads to access their drug of choice.
    There are countless of loopholes for corporate giants, big oil companies and banks. The question is: Are we willing to get rid of all loopholes?

  • CannaDave

    Why not test with the first and best? …. http://steephilllab.com/

  • ghostripper

    i was shot in a hunting accident and only have 3 feet of small bowl left.nj sucks and we
    have a 400 pounder eating steaks and getting fatter and nj is paying for it.Christie is a
    cop and always will be.welcome to new jersey the state of crooked cops.

  • http://www.growline.eu Growline.eu Growshop

    Hey webiste eigenaar, makkelijk verteld kwam ik op jouw site . via Google, ervaarde ik dat er echt nuttige uitleg bevat. Ik mocht het respectvol als je niet opgeeft met het bijwerken van je site . Weet zeker dat meerdere mensen ook van deze site kunnen benutten. U ziet mij snel terug!

  • Kb

    I really do think medical marijuana should be legalized to a point that anybody can buy.Its weird how liquor and ciggerittes can be bought from any store.Liquor messes up your liver and kidneys and ciggerittes messes with your lungs and its addictive while marijuana actually can cure alot of diseases while cigerittes are causing these diseases.The government doesn’t care about the people!

  • Cd

    I agree with KB he sounds like a real nigga who knows what hes talking about. Cigs cause way more harm to your body than marijuana. Marijuana can cure anything in my mind. *Live the high life*

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