AP: NJ lawmakers make moves to void pot rules

January 12, 2011 6:06:38 PM PST
A state senator said he's taking the next step toward voiding Gov. Chris Christie's proposed strict medical marijuana regulations after the Christie administration missed a Wednesday deadline to submit a new version.

A hearing on the issue has been scheduled for Jan. 20 before the state Senate's health committee.

That's the next step in a little-used legislative process to force an administration to redo regulations - the nuts-and-bolts of how a law is to be carried out. After the hearing, lawmakers could vote to require the Republican governor's administration to write new rules, said state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat from Linden.

The issue is simple: Legislators believe the Christie administration's plan on how to disburse marijuana to patients is so restrictive that it undermines the intent of the law adopted last year to do so.

The proposed regulations are the only ones in the nation to limit the potency and variety of pot that's made available to patients. They also require doctors who recommend marijuana to undergo more training.

New Jersey became the 14th state to adopt a law allowing patients with some medical conditions to use pot to ease their symptoms. People with glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other conditions say the drug can help relieve pain and nausea.

Signing the bill was one of the last acts as governor for Democrat Jon Corzine. A day later, Christie, who upset Corzine in an election the previous year, was sworn in.

Christie said he supported the concept of medical marijuana - but not the law that Corzine signed.

His critics on the issue say he tried to use the regulations to rewrite the law.

Christie says he's just using his authority to fill in blanks left in the law.

Last month, Christie struck a deal with Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat from Princeton who pushed for legal cannabis for patients, to make changes to his regulations. Among them: allowing six establishments to both grow and distribute the drug - as the law called for. Previously, Christie had wanted only two places to be allowed to grow it and four to distribute it.

But Scutari, the Legislature's other chief advocate of medical pot, didn't agree to the deal. And 10 days after it was struck, the Senate sided with him and voted to tell the administration that the regulations didn't meet the Legislature's intent.

The vote gave the Christie administration 30 days to draft new regulations. Scutari said Christie hasn't complied with that resolution - or even formally introduced the reworked regulations from the deal he struck with Gusciora.

"He hasn't even done what he said he would do," Scutari said. Donna Leusner, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Senior Services, said a revised set of regulations that incorporate the agreement with Gusciora would be made public on Thursday. But those rules don't answer many of the concerns from lawmakers or advocates.

Chris Goldstein, a spokesman for the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, founded in 2003 to support legalization efforts, said it's frustrating for patients that legal pot isn't available yet to patients who would qualify for it.

"A year later, we thought we would have the program running, and we don't," he said. "There's not a cannabis plant growing yet."

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