N.J. Governor, Legislator Spar Over Medical Marijuana Rules


Photo: Jeffrey L. Weinstein, Attorney at Law
N.J. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari: Gov. Christie’s proposed rules “unreasonably limit the supply of, and reduce qualifying patients’ access to medical marijuana”

‚ÄčA sponsor of New Jersey’s medical marijuana law on Monday introduced a resolution that would repeal what he called “restrictive” proposed rules for the program if Gov. Chris Christie does not make them at least resemble the original legislation.

“Many of the rules are not only burdensome and unnecessary, but they propose amendments to the new law, not merely regulations to enact it,” wrote Ken Wolski, a registered nurse who is also executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey (CMMNJ), on Tuesday.

Angry words were exchanged between the offices of Gov. Christie and of Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), the medical marijuana law’s sponsor, reports Susan K. Livio at NJ.com.
Behind the controversy is the Christie administration’s decision to license just two growers statewide, to supply just four dispensaries from which cannabis could be sold. Dispensary owners could apply and pay an additional fee to open one satellite location each, according to the proposed rules.

Scutari also doesn’t like that the Christie administration is splitting up the Alternative Treatment Centers (only six of them at first) into two for cultivating and four for selling, reports Brian Thompson of NBC New York.
The Christie administration’s decision “to create these two categories may be to unreasonably limit the supply of, and reduce qualifying patients’ access to medical marijuana,” Scutari’s resolution reads.
Then there’s the 10 percent THC limit (one of the main medically active ingredients in marijuana) which is being proposed by the Governor’s office.
“Establishing an arbitrary limit on… THC [would make]New Jersey the only state with a medical marijuana program that has sought to do this,” Scutari said.
Finally, Scutari is upset that the Christie administration proposes “unnecessarily delaying the consideration of adding other medical conditions and treatments for the program” by at least two years and two annual reports.
“The law did not include such limits,” Scutari said.
Scutari again called the law “the strictest in the nation,” but added, “With the regulations set forth by the [Christie] administration, it appears we’re not one step short of a total repeal.”
Scutari’s resolution requires state Health and Senior Services Commissioner Poonam Alaigh to rewrite the proposed rules mirroring the law within 30 days, or Scutari will move to repeal them.
Under the New Jersey Constitution, the Legislature can vote to invalidate the rules, giving the Christie administration 30 days to change them.
If Christie refuses, a public hearing would be held, and 20 days after transcripts of the htearing were given to each member of the Legislature, there would be a second vote to formally invalidate the rules. The Governor has no veto power over that procedure.
However, the administration could always devise new rules that might or might not be acceptable to the Legislature. The process could repeat itself indefinitely until the administration writes rules the Legislature finds acceptable.
If Scutari’s resolution repealing the restrictive rules passes, Gov. Christie claimed it would be the state senator’s fault for delaying patients from getting legal access to marijuana. “I don’t think he wants to be responsible for that,” the Governor said Monday.
Christie also accused the senator of “not telling the truth” when he said he was surprised by the proposed rules that will govern the medical marijuana program.
Scutari angrily denied that he had lied, arguing state health officials did not allow him to look at a copy of the rules until they posted them online at 5 p.m. on October 6.
“How could I have known what the administration was going to do?” Scutari said.
“They paid me lip service,” Scutari said, telling him that the rules “would be fair, and you are going to like what we are doing. Why did they treat this like top secret material they couldn’t even share with the person who wrote the law before he [Gov. Christie] was even in office?”
The original law, as written Scutari, calls for six nonprofits — two in northern New Jersey, two in the central part of the state, and two in the south — to grow and sell cannabis to authorized patients.
The state could license more dispensaries if officials deem the demand is strong enough.

Medical marijuana’s future in New Jersey