Yesterday, Gov. Christie announced that the wait is over for patients, and the medical marijuana program that has been on hold for months will finally move forward. He will instruct the New Jersey Department of Health and Social Services to begin implementation “as expeditiously as possible.” This includes establishing the six alternative care centers that were approved last year.
Christie had left the program in limbo while he determined how to allow dispensaries and not attract attention from the federal government. This behavior has been mirrored in other states in response to letters from U.S. Attorneys intimating that they would no longer look the other way for anyone other than patients and individual caregivers, exposing the booming medical marijuana industry to serious risk. But Christie, himself a former U.S. Attorney, said that when he occupied that role, he would not have gone after dispensaries, as they are permitted in New Jersey’s medical marijuana law. This, and the fact that the program is perhaps the strictest and narrowest in the country, led him to believe that neither the state nor the dispensaries would face federal prosecution.
The governor did not consult with the current federal attorney for New Jersey, but does not think the department will waste it’s resources prosecuting state-approved, non-profit medical marijuana providers. Let’s hope he is correct.
It is very heartening to see state leaders moving ahead with permitting and regulating the medical marijuana industry so that patients will not be forced to purchase their medicine from the illicit market. So far, the Department of Justice has been fairly decent about respecting state law with regard to dispensaries as long as those states have clear regulations for the industry. Other states, particularly Rhode Island, should not fear federal interference for implementing regulated dispensary systems.