Medical marijuana supporters in New Jersey are blasting a letter from state Attorney General Paula Dow to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking whether federal authorities would bust any of the participants in a medical marijuana program.
“The federal government retains the right to prosecute under federal law. This isn’t news,” said Roseanne Scotti, the director of New Jersey’s Drug Policy Alliance. “The federal government has never exercised this authority against officials in any of the fifteen states that have medical marijuana laws.”
Some critics are dubbing Dow’s request a move by Gov. Christopher Christie — a former federal prosecutor — to use federal authority as an excuse to deep-six New Jersey’s medical marijuana program before it’s even afloat.
However, Dow said it’s essential for top law enforcement officials in Washington to clarify whether those licensed to grow or sell marijuana or state workers operating the program could be arrested and charged federally.
“As the state’s chief legal adviser to all of the departments in the Executive Branch, many of which are participating in carrying out the medical marijuana legislation, it is critical that I properly advise them as to the potential criminal and civil ramifications of their actions in carrying out their duties,” she wrote.
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire asked the same question, causing a widespread stir in his state, and was told that patients legally participating in the program would be spared but not necessarily the operators “even even if such activities are permitted under state law.”
“We maintain the authority to enforce the Controlled Substance Act vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana,” the response said.
Scotti found it odd that the program’s legality suddenly is an issue, given that New Jersey’s was supposed to begin operating last fall and is still stuck in gear.
“The legislature worked on this bill for almost five years and it was thoroughly vetted legally,” she said. “It is clear that in New Jersey, just as in other states with medical marijuana laws, the state has the authority under state law to implement such a program.”
Elise Segal, who has multiple sclerosis, said she has suffered severe pain and muscle spasms for “as long as I can remember,” and was “shocked and appalled” when she heard about the “ridiculous inquiry.”
Segal called herself and others who, like her, have been waiting for the program’s launch “are just pawns in a game of politics.”
Don Pendley, President of the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, said Christie is deliberately trying to delay the program and that President Obama is showing “disrespect of the authority of state government.”
“A truly progressive federal government would support experimentation and diversity at the state level, such as the law passed by the New Jersey legislature, which is among the toughest medical marijuana laws in the nation. Instead, we have both a Democratic and Republican leader trying to seem tough on drugs at the expense of thousands of Americans who are living and dying in pain.”
Christie insists the law is too lax. He wants rules limiting the drug’s potency and the number of strains sold, as well as mandatory training for doctors who prescribe pot, before he’ll sign off on the measure.
The regulations were drafted after months of consultations with scientists, physicians, academics, marijuana-use advocates and administrators of medical-marijuana programs in 13 other states and the District of Columbia, state Department of Health and Senior Services Commissioner Poonam Alaigh said.
“We have designed a clinically sound program that is unique to New Jersey,” she told the New Jersey Law Journal. “It is a physician-driven program that provides access to qualified patients for whom conventional treatment has failed and who may benefit from medicinal marijuana as a symptom reliever.”
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