New Jersey: Senate moves towards dissolving Christie's medical marijuana proposal as patients plead for action

By Susan K. Livio, Statehouse Bureau
Video by John Munson, The Star-Ledger

There is a truth that must be heard! TRENTON — As the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration continued to clash over how New Jersey’s medical marijuana program should operate, David Barnes from Califon came to Trenton Thursday and pleaded for a truce.

Testifying at the public hearing Democrats held in Trenton to make the case that Christie’s ideas about legalizing pot for severely ill patients are too restrictive and ought to be repealed, Barnes, 50, said he was arrested for possessing a half-gram of marijuana last year. He told the local prosecutor and judge the drug helps tame the violent nausea brought on by a seizure disorder, and as soon as the medical marijuana program gets underway, he’ll become a card-carrying member.

They’ll dismiss the charges once he’s enrolled, Barnes said, but his case has been scheduled for a hearing 11 times as he’s waited for the state to act.

"I am the person who you wrote this bill for — to protect people who use marijuana from prosecution for simple possession. Please help me," he said. "What do I do now?

Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), a sponsor of the medical marijuana law, acknowledged the repeal would delay the start date, but said "it’s worth taking the extra time.’’ Sen. Sean Kean (R-Monmouth) argued the partisan bickering only hurt patients who have to wait. The program is supposed to start in July.

"While I agree with what Sen. Whelan has said about doing it right, my own selfish purposes, I agree with what Sen. Kean has said, about doing it quickly,’’ Barnes said, adding "there’s a lot of people out there who do suffer."

Other argued the proposed rules — which limit the potency and strains of the drug — are unfair and don’t match the law enacted a year ago.

Attorney Lisa Levine of Trenton said she represented a group of investors with pharmaceutical, financial and agricultural backgrounds that wanted to apply to become one of the non-profit, six grower-sellers the law allows.

"The regulations were released, and all key players took their marbles and went home," Levine said. "What was a restrictive environment is now become a strangled environment."

Patients must visit doctors every three months to assess their need for the drug and, if possible, switch them to something else. "The state has inserted itself in the patient-physician relationship in an unprecedented way," she added.

The hearing is one of the final steps of using legislative veto power over rules. A transcript of the proceedings must be given to each lawmaker, and after 20 days, the Legislature can adopt a resolution to invalidate the regulations.