New Jersey News

New Jersey Gov Christie eases access to medical marijuana for children

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gov. Chris Christie has agreed to give chronically ill children easier access to medical marijuana.

However, the governor made modifications to the bill to ensure that these forms will only be available to qualifying patients who are minors.

"Protection of our children remains my utmost concern, and my heart goes out to those children and their families who are suffering with serious illnesses. Today, I am making common sense recommendations to this legislation to ensure sick children receive the treatment their parents prefer, while maintaining appropriate safeguards," Christie said in a written statement.

Christie agreed to allow production of ingestible forms of pot at state-approved dispensaries and to allow dispensaries to grow more than three strains of the drug.

But he wants to leave a requirement that a psychiatrist and pediatrician sign off before children are allowed medical marijuana.

They would still need a third doctor's recommendation if one of the others is not registered in the program.

The bill now goes back to the Legislature. If lawmakers make the changes Christie requested, it will become law. It was not immediately clear when lawmakers may take it up, but the state Senate does have a voting session scheduled for Monday.

Like the 19 other states that allow medical marijuana, New Jersey lets children use it. But unlike all but a few, the state law and regulations currently in place - considered perhaps the most stringent among states that allow medical pot at all - have additional hurdles for young patients.

They must have a pediatrician and psychiatrist sign off on their use. And if one of those doctors is not registered with the state medicinal cannabis program, they would need a third physician to recommend the drug.

The bill to ease access sparked a new round of debate between Christie and medical marijuana advocates, many of whom doubt that he wants the state's fledgling pot-for-patients program to succeed.

It attracted broader attention this week when parent Brian Wilson confronted the governor during a campaign stop in a diner. Wilson believes his 2-year-old daughter, Vivian, would benefit by using a certain form and strain of pot for Dravet syndrome, a rare and sometimes deadly form of epilepsy.

In a moment captured on video that made news shows and websites, Wilson told the governor, "Please don't let my daughter die."

Christie, who has raised concerns that it could be adults using pot recommended for their children, told him, "I know you think it's simple, but it's not," during their brief exchange.

Wilson and his wife, Meghan, who live in Scotch Plains, said in a statement Friday that they are disappointed Christie "decided to make it so difficult for parents, who are already enduring tremendous pain and heartache, to get approval for such a safe and simple medication."

They said it's not fair that other drugs can be prescribed for children without additional doctors signing off.

They released a statement saying, "We are confident the legislature will resolve the conflict and hope that the Department of Health implements these changes swiftly and with good faith of the intent of the law. However, we are disappointed that the governor decided to make it so difficult for parents, who are already enduring tremendous pain and heartache, to get approval for such a safe and simple medication. We think that the next course of action is for the legislation to draft a bill to require a three doctors to sign off for pediatric prescriptions of opiates, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, steroids and methamphetamines, which are all liberally prescribed with little oversight or Dr - to - parent education."

The changes Christie is willing to make could enable children like Vivian to get the form and strain of pot that could help them by lifting limits on how many strains of marijuana dispensaries can grow and by allowing ingestible forms that kids could take without smoking.

Currently, New Jersey allows dispensaries to grown only three strains of pot, and that has made it unlikely that the kind Vivian's family says she needs will be made available. John Wilson said other children with Dravet have benefited from a form high in a compound known as CBD and low in THC, the chemical that gets pot users high. Wilson said the drug can work not only to relieve pain or build up an appetite - two things medical pot is often used for - but as a medicine to treat Dravet.

New Hampshire, Delaware and Illinois have multiple-doctor requirements for kids to get pot, said Chris Goldstein, a marijuana activist who is on the board of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey.

"This is something that originated in New Jersey and is likely to be copied in other states," he said.

New Jersey now has just one operating legal dispensary with a second expected to open in September.

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Information from The Associated Press.

(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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new jersey, medical marijuana, chris christie, new jersey news
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