Trenton, NJ -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie held a press conference Tuesday to announce his plans to "begin work immediately" on his state's pending medical marijuana program. "We're moving forward with the program as it was set up," said Governor Christie with the expectation that licensed Alternative Treatment Centers could be up and operating as early as the end of 2011. Governor Christie said he believed "the need to provide compassionate pain relief to these citizens of our state outweighs the risk we are taking in moving forward with the program." Governor Christie's announcement comes in spite of threats from U.S. Attorneys on the issue and a June 29th memorandum from Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
"If Governor Christie can implement his state's medical marijuana program in the face of recent attempts by the federal government to intimidate public officials, then states like Arizona, Rhode Island and Washington should be empowered to implement theirs as well," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. Governors from the three states had indicated that they were unwilling to implement distribution laws due to threats of criminal prosecution by U.S. Attorneys.
New Jersey's law sets up a patient registry for the thousands of its residents that benefit from the use of medical marijuana, but it will also license six distribution centers scattered around the state. Local and state medical marijuana production and distribution laws in particular have come under scrutiny by the federal government in the past few months, culminating with the Cole memo. In April, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire gutted the distribution licensing scheme and other provisions beneficial to patients in a bill passed by the state legislature, allegedly because of a letter she received from U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has filed suit against the federal government seeking clarity on whether she can implement her state's medical marijuana initiative passed by voters last November. "Governor Christie's decision to move ahead with New Jersey's medical marijuana program should be a clarion call to other public officials like Governor Brewer that the health and welfare of their people are paramount," continued Sherer. New Jersey now joins Delaware and Vermont as states that have chosen to implement their distribution licensing laws despite not-so-veiled threats by the federal government.
The announcement by Governor Christie came only two days after a New York Times article critical of the failure by New Jersey to implement a program that has gone unimplemented for nearly two years. In his announcement, Governor Christie said he came to the conclusion "reading both the letter from Deputy Attorney General Cole and also reading remarks...from then-candidate Barack Obama..and most importantly, the way we've set up the program...to move forward as expeditiously as possible to implement the medical marijuana program in New Jersey as outlined."