NJ Senate Votes to Overturn Rules on Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Showdown in NJ

The vote was really not that close on Monday as the New Jersey Senate voted 22 to 16 to overturn the proposed rules for the growing and sale of medical marijuana in the Garden State.

This sets the Legislature on a collision course with Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his Department of Health and Senior Services.

"I'm willing to have an open dialog with the Governor," said the prime Senate sponsor of the law, Sen. Nicholas Scutari(D-Union) after the vote.

The proposed rules that have become so controversial in recent weeks include a THC limit of no more than 10%, as well as requiring doctors who want to write what amounts to prescriptions for the pot to take ongoing continuing education classes, no matter what their current pain management skills.

"We shouldn't administratively have a bureaucracy set the level of medicine which these people on their dying death beds need," said Sen. Scutari, while he argued "We trust them(doctors) with some of the most potent medicines available."

"My doctor will not participate," Kwiatkowski said in describing her concerns with the red tape that advocates claim doctors must go through to gain authorization from the state to prescribe the drug.

Kwiatkowski, who has been using marijuana illegally for 8 years to relieve his pain, said "It's very difficult for patients like myself to fight for something we should have had over the summer."

In passing this resolution, both houses of the Legislature have now set the stage for a showdown.

Under the New Jersey constitution, the legislature can force the administration to rewrite rules that the legislature feels do not match the intent of the law when it was passed--in this case last January, when then-Governor Jon Corzine signed it into law a day before Christie took office.

But what is not clear is if the Legislature can actually write the regulations to its satisfaction, or if the Administration can simply tweak its proposed rules with a word change here and a word change there and still defy what legislators say is their intent.

Two hours after the Senate action, Mike Drewniak, Press Secretary to Governor Christie, released a statement accusing Senator Scutari of "transparent maneuvering."

"It is truly unfortunate that the Senator will now further delay providing patients in need with the critical relief already achieved by Governor Christie and Assemblyman Gusciora's bipartisan solution," said Drewniak. (Gusciora, a co-sponsor of the law, joined the Governor recently in announcing a compromise, though it was after the full Assembly had already voted for repeal of the rules.)

While not addressing the action that forces some sort of change in the rules, Drewniak said Senator Scutari "should stop the gamesmanship and join Governor Christie in bringing relief to patients in a compassionate and bipartisan way."

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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