NJ Medical Marijuana Rules May Go Up in Smoke

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    DENVER - APRIL 20: A man smokes a joint at a pro-marijuana "4/20" celebration in front of the state capitol building April 20, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. April 20th has become a de facto holiday for marijuana advocates, with large gatherings and 'smoke outs' in many parts of the United States. Colorado, one of 14 states to allow use of medical marijuana, has experienced an explosion in marijuana dispensaries, trade shows and related businesses in the last year as marijuana use has become more mainstream.

    Buried deep in New Jersey's Constitution is a little-used provision that gives legislators the right to veto rules and regulations that governors draft for the laws they pass.

    And, furious over the Department of Health's proposed medical marijuana rules, that is exactly what State Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) is asking his fellow legislators to do.

    We'll describe the process a bit later, but this is what has Senator Scutari so streamed:

    For starters, he doesn't like the requirement that a physician certify that conventional medical treatments were exhausted first.

    According to a release, "The law requires that only patients with certain conditions -- seizure disorder, intractable muscle spasticity and glaucoma -- [must] be resistant to conventional medical therapy to qualify."

    Scutari also doesn't like splitting up the Alternative Treatment Centers (only six of them at first) into two for cultivating and four for selling.

    "The exclusivity of the ATCs would severely limit accessibility," he said.

    Then, there's the 10 percent THC limit being proposed.

    "Establishing an arbitrary limit on... THC (the active ingredient in marijuana), [would make] New Jersey the only state with a medical marijuana program that has sought to do this," said Scutari.

    Finally, Scutari is upset over "unnecessarily delaying the consideration of adding other medical conditions and treatments for the program" by at least two years and two annual reports.

    "The law did not include such limits," Scutari said.

    He said the state law is "the strictest in the nation" but added, "with the regulations set forth by the [Gov. Chris Christie] administration, it appears we're now one step short of a total repeal."

    But a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Senior Services, Donna Leusner, put out a statement late Monday afternoon arguing that the rules "are consistent with the intent of the law."

    "In order to ensure access, the rules allow for home delivery and satellites(ATC's, or Alternative Treatment Centers) in  addition to the dispensing sites in each region of the state," said Leusner in her statement.

    Under the Constitution, the Legislature can vote to invalidate the rules, giving the Administration 30 days to change them.

    If it refuses, a public hearing would be held, and 20 days after transcripts of the hearing were "placed on the desks of each member of the Legislature." there would be a second vote that would formally invalidate the rules. The Governor has no veto power.

    However, the administration could always come up with new rules that would still be unacceptable to the legislature, and this process could repeat itself. And repeat itself. And repeat itself.

    But Leusner counters, "To avoid unintended consequences of lax oversight that has occurred in other states such as Colorado and California, New Jersey has implemented common sense rules, based on clinical standards designed to protect the general public's safety as well as the safety of participating patients and their caregivers."

    But advocates for medical marijuana, including many who take the drug illegally, are skeptical of the administration, and rallied in front of the Statehouse in Trenton Monday to protest the rules.

    Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY