New Jersey: Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Last Shot Today

January 11, 2010 – State lawmakers will wrap up the lame-duck session today with a lengthy to-do list that includes legalizing medical marijuana.The 2008-09 legislative session will expire at noon tomorrow, and with it any measure not passed by both houses.

The Senate and Assembly will take up nearly 100 bills in their respective houses. Lawmakers predict a marathon session, but they say it won’t rival some from years past. “That session has run past midnight many times,” Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. (D-Camden) said. Prior to the voting session, people with debilitating diseases will hold a press conference at the Statehouse
with the legislation’s sponsors urging lawmakers to make New Jersey the 14th state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.

Opponents are incensed by recent changes to the bill — which double the amount of the drug available each month to patients and allow for-profit organizations to distribute it. Vivian Booker of Englewood, who has used marijuana to alleviate pain from multiple sclerosis, will await word of the vote at home. Pain from the disease, intensified by the frigid weather, has kept her mostly bedridden recently. “Boy, would I love to be there,” said Booker, 58, who said she experiences waves of excruciating pain in her hands and legs that feel like a screwdriver turning into her body. Passage of the bill would, she said,
eliminate her fear of getting arrested or buying marijuana laced with another drug.

David Evans, executive director of the Drug Free School Coalition, said the most recent version of the bill (A-804) would open the door for “pot centers,” and compared it with California’s law, which has been criticized for being too lax.
Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey, called the criticism a “groundless accusation by people who just don’t support this ideologically.”

Allowing for-profits to operate dispensaries ensures enough of these sites will exist, she said, adding that running a highly regulated marijuana site is expensive business. “This bill is still the most restrictive in the country,” Scotti said. Lawmakers must still reconcile the Senate and Assembly versions of the legislation — which also differ over whether patients can grow their own marijuana — before sending it to the governor’s desk for his signature.

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