Gov. Christie says providing compassionate pain relief to citizens outweighs the risk the state is taking in implementing its medical marijuana program.
TRENTON � Gov. Chris Christie Tuesday said he will order state officials to quickly implement New Jersey�s medical marijuana program, a move growers say could allow the drug to be sold to chronically ill patients by the end of the year.
Christie said the state health department should �move forward as expeditiously as possible,� lifting a three-month hold he imposed while waiting for federal law enforcement officials to tell him whether state workers or private growers would be vulnerable to arrest.
�I believe that the need to provide compassionate pain relief to these citizens of our state outweighs the risk that we are taking in moving forward with the program as it is set up,� Christie said in a Statehouse news conference.
The green light from the administration means the six nonprofit organizations authorized to sell the marijuana will be told to get to work opening a store and begin growing as soon as possible.
At some point � although health officials have not said when � patients recommended by their doctor to enroll in the program will be told to apply for an identification card and to place their name on a state patient registry.
Christie said he had been waiting since April for the Obama administration to clarify a concern raised by other governors that state employees affiliated with the program could run the risk of arrest by federal law enforcement officials. Possessing and selling marijuana remains a federal crime, even though 16 states have enacted medical marijuana laws.
A memo by U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole on June 30 did not specifically answer the questions about immunity for state or private employees, said Christie, a former U.S. attorney, but �gave us some hints� as to whether federal authorities would scrutinize legitimate medical marijuana employees. He said he�s betting they won�t.
Cole�s memo expressed concern about �an increase in scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes� in some unidentified states. Christie has insisted that New Jersey�s program be tightly regulated to make sure only chronically ill people can have access to the drug.
The governor�s announcement came as a relief to dispensary owners as well as patients, who were frustrated because they had been told he drug would be available this summer.