New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie held a press conference July 19 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 Christie, with the expectation that licensed Alternative Treatment Centers could be up and operating as early as the end of 2011. 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." Christie's announcement comes in spite of threats from US Attorneys on the issue and a June 29 memorandum from Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
"If Gov. 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, 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 US 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 cannabis 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 Gov. Christine Gregoire gutted the state's distribution licensing scheme in a bill passed by the state legislature, allegedly because of a letter she received from US Attorney Michael Ormsby.
Arizona Gov. 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. "Gov. Christie's decision to move ahead with New Jersey's medical marijuana program should be a clarion call to other public officials like Gov. 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. (ASA, July 19)