By Chris Goldstein
Last month the New Jersey Legislature delayed medical marijuana access into next year and from behind closed-doors in Trenton an extraordinary concept was floated: Rutgers University could be named as the sole source for all medical cannabis cultivation and the marijuana would be distributed only at hospitals.
But NJCTH President J. Richard Goldstein (no relation) spoke with me via phone last Friday.
He said that NJCTH was invited for informational discussions but not to draft language for the law and described the medical marijuana proposal as “pie in the sky.”
NJCTH’s Goldstein explained, “This is not a full plan. This was just an initial conversation with some key players. The Christie Administration just ran with it.”
Governor Chris Christie’s staff and some legislators have been speaking frequently with the media about the proposals.
Patients could access marijuana at hospitals to be sure and Rutgers University certainly has the capability of farming medical cannabis. But their Boards of Directors and retained attorneys would be hard pressed to take on the one thing that private businesses already do: Risk.
New Jersey hospitals and Rutgers University have not fully examined their federal liabilities. None of those entities have committed themselves to putting their assets on the line for sick and dying patients. They are not alone; not a single hospital or university in the US currently engages in the production or distribution of state regulated medical marijuana.*
Thirteen states have medical marijuana programs running where private non-profit or for-profit business owners take on the tremendous risk presented by ongoing federal prohibition. Any one of several authorities could seize their properties and assets at any given moment. The owners and employees of medical cannabis businesses also take on the risk of personally losing their freedom through federal arrest.
There do exist groups of private citizens ready to get New Jersey’s program running.
New Jersey’s medical cannabis patient advocacy organizations and other groups interested in offering information about the medical marijuana program have not been afforded the same opportunities to meet with “key players” that Rutgers the NJCTH have enjoyed.
In fact, form letters sent from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services claimed that state officials were considering no proposals from any group. Link
The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act currently calls for the initial licensing of six, private Alternative Treatment Centers around the state.
Patients can only gain legal protections by purchasing marijuana from an authorized ATC.
NJ Council of Teaching Hospitals President also commented that in his meetings about the medical cannabis program: “ There was not much about patients. It was about how to control the marijuana and who grows it.”
The NJ Department of Health and Senior Services are currently scheduled to begin the regulatory process in October and bring the medical cannabis program online starting in January 2011.
Legislators already seem keen on amending the medical marijuana law again, before it gets off of paper and into practice.
Ken Wolski RN, the Executive Director of The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ) said, “The proposal to monopolize NJ’s medical marijuana program to provide a funding source for training new doctors in the state represents a betrayal of the very patients that the law was designed to protect and serve.”
CMMNJ plans to intensify efforts to educate the public about the ways to best serve the patients who qualify under the law.
* The University of Mississippi hosts the only DEA licensed marijuana cultivation facility. The single strain of cannabis is distributed to four federal medical marijuana patients. The National Institutue on Drug Abuse (NIDA) also oversees the federal marijuana. It is used for research on a very limited basis.
More about medical marijuana in New Jersey at www.cmmnj.org
Read the full text of NJ’s medical marijuana law http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2008/Bills/PL09/307_.HTM