Senate Approves Amended Medical Marijuana Bill

By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
NJ Today

All of the senators present, with the exception of Republican Sen. Michael Doherty, voted in favor the amended medical marijuana bill. Co-sponsor Sen. Joseph Vitale says it’s not a perfect measure, but it accomplished the main goal, which is to give children who are ill access to medical marijuana.

“This particular piece of legislation addresses children only in the edible form, that they can take the pill because they’re not going to smoke it as a child, but in a pill form. It wasn’t in the first piece of legislation. It clarifies the intent of the bill,” Vitale said.

At a campaign event today, the governor didn’t say why he conditionally vetoed the bill. But in a statement he called the changes “commonsense recommendations to ensure sick children receive treatment while maintaining appropriate safeguards.”

Among those safeguards, requiring two physicians, including a psychiatrist to clear the child to enter the program. Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck, who previously voted against the bill, supports the governor’s conditions.

“I think this was a good compromise. I mean, most folks are a little leary about having what is an illegal drug being administered as a medication. And this, I think, is a happy medium where we can be certain that it’s being administered properly and in places where we know it can be effective in helping children and it’s not going to be abused,” said Beck.

“The piece that requires a psychiatrist to interview the patient, what if the patient’s a 5-year-old child? There is no sort of real medical necessity for that,” Vitale said.

Leading the effort to push this bill was Brian Wilson whose daughter Vivian needs a specific strain of medical marijuana to help ease seizures that are caused by a rare disorder. Wilson confronted the governor at a campaign event last week, as well as dozens of Wilson supporters, who urged Christie to sign the bill. Despite today’s vote, Wilson says the amended measure won’t do much to help his daughter and other ill children.

“With the change to the edibles to make them for minors only, the dispensaries will have no financial incentive. In fact it would be a tremendous financial burden for them to create edibles for minors because so far in the state there are anywhere from three to six minors who would need these minor-friendly edibles,” Wilson said.

Vitale admits there may not be an economic incentive for dispensaries to produce the pill form, but he believes they will develop it. Regulations will soon be drafted for the new law. Vitale says that can be completed by the fall if the governor wants it done quickly.