(Updates with dispensary delay in seventh paragraph.)
July 19 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he plans to end the suspension on implementing the state’s medical-marijuana program.
Christie, a first-term Republican and former U.S. prosecutor, told reporters he doesn’t believe federal law- enforcement officials will go after dispensaries of medical marijuana or state workers who help to implement the program.
“I believe that 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, 48, said today in Trenton.
Former Governor Jon Corzine, a 64-year-old Democrat whom Christie succeeded, signed a law in 2009 legalizing marijuana for medicinal use in New Jersey by those suffering from cancer, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, and other afflictions. The sale and possession of the drug remains illegal under federal law, even for medical use.
Christie, who took office in 2010, initially sought to reduce the number of marijuana dispensaries and to place more regulations on how the drug was grown and prescribed, saying he wanted to prevent abuse.
In December, the governor announced a compromise that would let six centers statewide grow and dispense pot. It would also limit the potency of the prescribed drug.
Seeds and Plants
Users will have to wait at least four months for suppliers to begin operating, according to William J. Thomas, president and chief executive officer of Compassionate Care Foundation Inc. The nonprofit group will run a dispensary from a location yet to be determined in the south-central part of the state.
“No documentation has come to us from the Department of Health allowing us, under state law, to control the organic proponents of the business,” Thomas said in a telephone interview. “In other words, we couldn’t have any plants or seeds under state law.”
“We have to now acquire the seed and the equipment -- even owning the equipment is illegal,” Thomas said. “There’s start- up time to acquire those things, and about a 90-day growing period. What we’re projecting right now is Thanksgiving weekend, opening our dispensary.”
The foundation anticipates dispensary employment reaching 140 people within three years, Thomas said.
Leaders in some states share Christie’s misgivings about the application of U.S. drug laws. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who opposed the decision by voters there to permit medicinal- marijuana use, sued the federal government in May to force a ruling on whether industry workers could do their jobs without risking criminal charges.
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire vetoed part of a dispensary-licensing bill in her state in April, after U.S. prosecutors said state employees who handled the drug may face federal charges.
In Trenton, Christie said last month he would delay New Jersey’s medical-marijuana law until getting clarification from U.S. authorities on how it would deal with industry workers.
“It’s a risk worth taking” to alleviate pain by distributing marijuana under medical supervision, Christie said today. New Jersey’s law provides a “narrow, medically based program,” he said.
While the law’s implementation was delayed, the state chose six nonprofit groups to run the dispensaries, out of 35 proposals from 21 applicants, according to the Health and Senior Services Department. Each submitted three-year plans for operations including safety and security measures and disposal procedures.
The six dispensary operators will be contacted today and are expected to respond within a week on their readiness to open, Christie said. The state plans to move forward “as expeditiously as possible,” he said.
Including New Jersey, 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based group that wants the drug legalized and regulated for all users.
--Editors: Stacie Servetah, Ted Bunker, Mark Schoifet
To contact the reporter on this story: Elise Young in Trenton, New Jersey, at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at email@example.com