N.J. Lawmakers Pass Christie Changes to Pot-for-Tots Bill

New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled legislature approved changes to a bill vetoed by Republican Governor Chris Christie that will make it easier for parents to get access to medical marijuana for sick children.

Christie, a 51-year-old seeking a second term, said on Aug. 16 that he would sign legislation easing access to medical pot for kids as long as parents get three doctors’ notes.

The measure that passed the legislature in June would have lifted a requirement that parents get the doctors’ approval before a child enters the state’s medical-marijuana program. Christie’s amendments, which keep that requirement in the law, passed the Senate last month and the Assembly today.

“I am making common-sense recommendations to this legislation to ensure sick children receive the treatment their parents prefer, while maintaining appropriate safeguards,” Christie had said in a statement accompanying the so-called conditional veto.

The measure was prompted by the case of Vivian Wilson, a 2-year-old who has Dravet syndrome, a rare and severe epilepsy that forces her to wear an eye patch to reduce seizures caused by light. Her mother, Meghan Wilson, said she suffers an average of 15 episodes a day, and a strain of pot that doesn’t make users high may hold the best hope of blocking them.

Medical Use

While New Jersey allows medical-marijuana use, Meghan Wilson and others say the law’s rules make it almost impossible for children to be treated.

The issue heated up for Christie on Aug. 14 when he appeared in Vivian’s hometown of Scotch Plains for a campaign endorsement. Brian Wilson, her father, and about 150 other people showed up, urging the governor to sign the bill. Wilson, wearing a shirt that read “Vivian Wilson’s Dad,” said to Christie, “Please don’t let my daughter die.”

Christie said the issue is complicated and that he would “do what I think is best for the people of New Jersey -- all of them.”

Former Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat ousted by Christie in the 2009 election, signed a medical-marijuana law during the final days of his only term.

Christie, a former U.S. prosecutor, initially delayed the program, saying he worried it might have run afoul of federal law. He ended the suspension in July 2011 as he tightened restrictions and scaled back the number of centers that can sell the drug.

Pot Clinics

Twenty states allow medical-marijuana use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That doesn’t include New York, which has had a medical-marijuana law for 30 years, though it shut down the program in the late 1980s. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a 55-year-old Democrat, has said he’s open to medical marijuana, though he doesn’t favor it.

Christie has said that looser regulations in states such as California and Colorado let “potheads” get the drug with ease. In Los Angeles alone, there are more than 100 pot clinics. New Jersey allows for just six statewide, while limiting how many strains they can sell, the forms marijuana can take and its potency.

Meghan Wilson, 34, a consultant who runs clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies, said she’s obtained approvals from three doctors to apply for her daughter’s marijuana. The rules, though, bar ingested forms of cannabis -- the type that may help Vivian.

Christie said he would lift the three-strain cultivation limit on authorized growers and make the treatment available to children in edible form.

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