The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (“CUMMA”) deems medical marijuana to be “medicine” – based on proven, scientific and medical research. While the new law will literally benefit the lives of thousands of New Jersey patients (and their families and loved ones), it is also the strictest medical-marijuana law in the country. Under the law, a very limited number of patient illnesses/conditions are included for medical-marijuana treatment. In addition, after receiving a physician’s “certification” for medical-marijuana use in accordance with CUMMA, “qualified” patients are then allowed to register with only a single Alternative Treatment Center (ATC), and the patient must then purchase all of his/her medical marijuana at that single location. Moreover, unlike the other 13 states that have decriminalized medical marijuana, the New Jersey law does not allow a medical-marijuana patient to grow even the smallest amount of the medicine on their own (such growing-activity is still criminal and illegal in New Jersey, even by a medical-marijuana “qualified,” patient with a certification from a doctor . . . ).
In sum, New Jersey has enacted in CUMMA the most restrictive medical-marijuana program in the entire country. (Hey, it aint perfect and CompassionAssociates.org is looking to expand the law’s reach, but we will take it!) However, while campaigning for office, Governor Christie publicly stated many times, on record, that he vehemently opposed CUMMA because “it was too lax.” Governor Christie’s opinion aside, after both the New Jersey Senate and Assembly separately debated, voted on, and passed CUMMA, it was signed into LAW by then-Governor Corzine.
CUMMA states that the first six ATCs in New Jersey will be non-profit, with two located in the northern region, two located in the central region, and two located in the southern region of New Jersey. After the initial six, other ATCs may be for profit or non-profit.
Governor Christie has now decided to attack CUMMA a different way (effectively acting as both the executive, legislature, and judiciary branches of the New Jersey government), by looking to abandon and overlook the actual, specific text of the law itself – and have all medical marijuana under the entire state’s medical-marijuana program produced and distributed by Rutgers University.
Why? Right off the bat, something seems wrong with the government having a sweeping “oligopoly” related to the production and sale of medicine to its citizens. All other medicine we take (including the hardest of legal, pharmaceutical drugs that exist for patients) is produced by outside medical companies, and then distributed to patients through pharmacies. There is no direct government control of or involvement in that medical-distribution and sale process. Free trade allows for the best medicine and for continuous research and betterment of techniques. What is the difference with medical-marijuana? Why does the government have to get involved in that single medicine? The governmental, negative-stigma attached to medical marijuana must end! (can’t y’all read – the text of the New Jersey LAW itself explicitly deems marijuana for patients with certain medical-conditions to be “medicine” . . . ) And forgetting the endless Constitutional, Due Process and many other legal challenges to Governor Christie’s “Rutgers Oligopoly,” the concept is also seriously flawed at its root.
Under this idea, through Rutgers, the government would be responsible for all production and sale of medical marijuana in New Jersey; Rutgers would transport the medical-marijuana to hospitals across the State of New Jersey; and then hospitals would both sell and administer the medicine to patients. Here are some of the obvious flaws with the Governor’s approach:
Access: Growing, flowering, and harvesting medical marijuana is an intense, very-precise, time-consuming process that must be done correctly. Since medical-marijuana is “God’s creation,” there exist many problems “in nature” that can possibly ruin an entire crop of medical marijuana (including insects, plant disease, contaminated water, poor air-circulation, and biological issues, to name a few). Thus, by having Rutgers handle the production and distribution of all of the medical-marijuana medicine for the entire State of New Jersey, if there was – “God forbid” – any sort of natural problem or any other situation that ruined Rutger’s crop (for example, theft, fire, electrical issues, air-control problems, vandalism, strike by employees, or terrorism, to name a few), “qualified,” medical-marijuana patients would be at risk to be left with no medicine. Should terminally-ill and suffering patients be forced to bear this risk?
Costs: The other states which have already decriminalized medical marijuana have allowed and authorized non-profit and for-profit ATCs to handle the production and distribution of medical marijuana because there are private experts in the field who are best equipped to set up these growing facilities and also because such a diversified system allows private individuals to pay all costs associated with employing the system, and the State to immediately begin collecting sales tax on medical-marijuana sales when they begin. Governor Christie’s suggestion does not take advantage of these efficiencies. How much money would it cost to train the Rutgers employees to handle this massive operation for the entire state (including the production and baking of all edible-based medical-marijuana products for the entire state) and then transport this medicine to hospitals across the entire State of New Jersey every day? Would the New Jersey State Police be required to accompany every one of these deliveries? (that’s ALOT of overtime . . .) And the staff of hospitals must also be trained to handle their end of the process. How much will that training and maintenance – at every, single State hospital – cost? Isn’t New Jersey broke? Should the New Jersey taxpayers be forced to bear this burden?
Safety: Individual ATCs would be required to install high-tech, extensive security systems to receive licensing from the State. These complex security measures would of course be designed to prevent outside theft, in addition to employee theft. By contrast, under the Governor’s Rutgers-concept: (i) many, many different Rutgers employees would be involved in the process and in contact with medical marijuana; (ii) there would literally be transports of medical marijuana coming out of Rutgers every day, going to hospitals across the whole state (so there would be massive quantities of medical marijuana, in specific vehicles, on the New Jersey state-roads each day); (iii) medical-marijuana shipments would presumably be transported by State employees, who would be in contact with the medical-marijuana supply; and (iv) at hospitals across the State, many, many hospital employees would be involved in the process and in contact with medical marijuana. By allowing so many hands across the State into New Jersey’s “medical-marijuana cookie jar,” there is ample room for theft at every interval along the way. Individual ATCs are much better suited to establish effective safety measures at their own locations, using high-tech security firms and techniques. Should the public be forced to bear this risk?
Hospitals Are Jammed Already: Have you ever gone to a New Jersey State Hospital emergency room? You better bring pajamas and a tooth brush . . . The hospitals in New Jersey are so overcrowded all ready – and underfunded – that the doctors, nurses and staff members at these facilities don’t know where to turn or what to do, as it is. Now, under the Governor’s approach, these hospitals are also going to be in charge of storing and selling medical marijuana to patients across the entire state. Does that possibly seem like the best use of our limited, available medical-resources? I would much rather see the hospitals in New Jersey concentrate on sick and dying persons, rather than spending their valuable time and resources working as medical-marijuana pharmacies. Should the ill be forced to bear this risk?
Michael Press Berman
Co-Founder and Director
There are currently several highly rated shows on television that take place in New Jersey, such as The Real Housewives of New Jersey, MTV's Jersey Shore, and House, M.D. And for such a relatively-small state, that is quite unusual. I think its time that the rest of the nation gets to see the docudrama that New Jersey residents live with every day (and especially suffering patients who are waiting for the states' enacted, but never implemented, Medical Marijuana Act to be put in place). This “show” is based out of Trenton, and should be called The Real Lives of Trenton Lawmakers.
For those of you who are not regular “viewers” of The Real Lives of Trenton Lawmakers (and for those of you who have closed your eyes), I would like to give you a quick recap. Season One of Real Lives of Trenton was focused on the hero, Governor Jon Corzine, who faithfully led the fight for "New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act." The state's Medical Marijuana act was approved Jan. 11, 2010 by the House (48-14) and by the Senate (25-13). It was signed into law by Governor Corzine on January 18, 2010. Season One ended on a real “cliff hanger,” as Governor Corzine lost his bid for re-election.
Season Two of The Real Lives of Trenton Lawmakers got a rousing start as the newly elective Governor Chris Christie asked, and then received, an extension of time to implement the legislation that had been approved by Governor Corzine at the end of Season One. We learned that Governor Christie supposedly needed more time for his administration to work with the State Department of Health and Senior Services, in order to diligently-draft and analyze the details of how the new medical marijuana program in New Jersey was to work. After all that, his brain-child idea: “Have Rutgers University do it.”
That episode also showed a meeting of political expediency between Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Democrat State Senator Nicholas Scutari, when they reached an agreement on how to proceed with New Jersey's fledgling Medical Marijuana program. State Senator Scutari also told us he supported the idea of having the state's supply of medical marijuana initially grown by Rutgers University.
On the next episode of the Real Lives of Trenton Lawmakers, we heard Robert Goodman, Dean of the Agriculture Experiment Station at Rutgers, state that “Rutgers does not want to (and will not) become a producer of medical marijuana for the State of New Jersey!” Viewers were also surprised to find out that The New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals was most likely going to be granted the sole distribution rights of medical marijuana in New Jersey.
Well, on today's episode of the Real Lives of Trenton Lawmakers, we all learned what true fans of Real Lives new all along: Rutgers University formally told the Christie administration that the University is NOT willing to go along with Governor Christie’s plan, and Rutgers will not be a grower of medicinal cannabis in New Jersey.
Regular viewers of Real Lives of Trenton had been posting blogs since the misguided “Rutgers plan” was first announced by Governor Christie. There were so many problems with the misguided proposal that it seemed like just another poorly-scripted Hollywood plot. Really, since medical cannabis is still criminalized and illegal under Federal law, and most Universities and Hospitals receive federal funding in many different forms, did we really believe that Rutgers would risk millions upon millions in Federal money in exchange for the ability to grow, research or sell medicinal cannabis? Well, today's episode concluded with Rutgers' Goodman formally declining to grow and research medical marijuana for the entire state because the university did not want to risk the more than $500 million in federal funding it receives.
As soon as Governor Christie forced his “Rutgers option” on the State, many of us had serious doubts with the proposal. After-all, there were no changes in Federal law this month and we knew that it is actually impossible for one facility to manufacture medication for the entire state (or even 10 facilities – there are over 10 million people spread out across New Jersey!). Perhaps the Christie administration really had no intention of going ahead with the Rutgers' option. Instead, it appears to have been a diversionary tactic.
Governor Christie had been battling the legislature regarding the state's massive budget shortfall. This was priority number one for the Governor and his staff. They had no time to devote to addressing the pending regulations with regard for the Medical Marijuana program. They had us chasing windmills . . . while terminally ill patients in New Jersey suffered in silence.
Perhaps the Rutgers option was more like the warm-up act at the comedy club than a reality TV show. Even though it really isn't very good, it gives time for the late arrivals time to take to their seats. The bar makes some extra money - and the patrons laugh as the headliner now sounds even funnier. Well Governor, just as there is no TV show called The Real Lives of Trenton Lawmakers, your medical-marijuana “show” thus far has NOT been very funny. Your administration is the one arriving late, and if the delays continue, then only will members of the State Bar Association be making any money. And the state's disabled and ill patients will NOT find this funny at all.
Thank you for reading! May those who seek comfort, find comfort.
By Bradley Mann,
Co-Founder and Executive Director,
July 24, 2010