Gov. Jon Corzine, in one of his last acts before leaving office, signed a medical marijuana bill into law.
Advocates say the first critically ill patients should be able to light up before the end of the year if all goes well.
"I'm actually pretty optimistic that it will get implemented" by the new administration of Governor-elect Chris Christie, said Chris Goldstein, of the NJ Coalition for Medical Marijuana. Goldstein's primary concern is the medical profession itself. "The bigger hurdle is educating doctors so they will recommend it to their patients." Goldstein said.
While New Jersey now becomes the 14th state with an active medical marijuana program, it is unlike any of the others.
The primary difference is that it gives the state Department of Health and Senior Services authority to license its distribution to, initially, six non-profit Alternative Treatment Centers(two in North Jersey, two in Central Jersey and two in South Jersey). DHSS has six months to draw up the rules regulating such centers. Those centers, by this new law, must grow their own pot.
Additionally, they have to grow it inside in a warehouse or greenhouse-type atmosphere "to ensure the safety and security of the crop, not just to keep it from being stolen but also from Mother Nature," said Goldstein. He noted "Users cannot grow their own marijuana."
It also restricts its distribution to people with AIDS, ALS(Lou Gehrig's Disease), Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy and cancer. Doctors are prohibited from writing prescriptions for pain relief for any other sufferings.
Ultimately though, it is up to doctors to prescribe marijuana(in those five specific diseases), "Patients can ask for it all they want, but doctors have to recommend," said Goldstein.
As for opponents, "It's frustrating," said David Evans of the Drug-Free School Coalition. Evans predicts many abuses of the law, though he admitted "it's a far better bill than what they started with."
Still, noting success in defeating medical marijuana bills in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and several other states last year, Evans said his organization will keep a close eye on how the new law works in New Jersey, where his organization is based. "We're certainly going to continue to focus on it and make sure it's not abused," Evans said.