New Jersey — By a vote of 48 to 14 in the state’s assembly on Monday, New Jersey became the 14th state in the union to make legal accommodations for the use of medical marijuana. However, California this is not.
The bill, which was supported by both outgoing Gov. John Corzine and Governor-elect Chris Christie, will likely become law this week. It restricts doctors from prescribing marijuana for anything less than a terminal illness or debilitating condition, such as cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis.
Patients will not be allowed to grow their own supply and sales of medical marijuana will be tracked by the same regulatory framework used with powerful opiates like OxyContin.
New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat, told The New York Times that the state’s medical marijuana provision will be the most strict in the entire nation and would likely become “a model” for other states.
Instead of allowing private pot shops that limit their customers to those with a prescription, New Jersey will establish six non-profit marijuana growing operations that do not purchase their supply from elsewhere.
“It would legitimize marijuana as a medicine in a way other states haven’t,” Chris Goldstein, of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana, told NBC New York.
“This is a wonderful beginning,” said Nancy Fedder, a 62-year-old multiple sclerosis sufferer and illegal medical marijuana patient, speaking to Bloomberg. “It’s something that needed to happen a long time ago; sometimes I have to go to bed and stay there for days, and when I smoke marijuana the pain comes right down.”
The Times noted that opponents of the New Jersey bill repeatedly cited California’s allowance of medical marijuana as a cautionary tale.
However, in California, the annual value of the state’s illegal marijuana crop has been estimated to top $13.8 billion, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. In the time since California legalized medical marijuana with loose restrictions on where and how it could be sold, the drug has effectively been decriminalized state-wide.
Should the state legalize the plant for recreational use, legislators expect to see up to $4 billion in tax revenue in the first year alone, at a time when California is coping with deep budget cuts amid a fiscal crisis unlike any the state has ever seen.
While voter initiatives have ensured that legalization will be on the 2010 ballot, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) may be two steps ahead of them. A long time proponent of legalization, Ammiano chairs the assembly’s Public Safety Committee, where he plans to hold the first hearing on marijuana legalization in the history of the United States.
His bill, the Marijuana Legalization, Regulation, and Education Act, would tax and regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol. The committee has scheduled a hearing and vote on Tuesday, after which Ammiano plans to hold a press conference, according to San Diego News Room.
By Stephen Webster