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N.J. approves medical marijuana bill

Associated Press / January 12, 2010

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TRENTON, N.J. - The Legislature approved a bill yesterday that would make New Jersey the 14th state to allow chronically ill patients access to marijuana for medical reasons.

Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat, supports the legislation and could sign it before leaving office next week, making it law.

The bill allows patients with ailments such as cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis to buy up to 2 ounces of marijuana a month at state-monitored dispensaries.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Trenton Democrat, was a cosponsor of the bill and pushed for it for years. He said medical marijuana can alleviate suffering and there’s no evidence it increases overall drug use.

“I don’t think we should make criminals out of our very sick and terminally ill,’’ he said.

Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor who is the incoming governor and a Republican, said he supported the concept of the bill but remained concerned that a loophole could lead to abuses.

A compromise bill was worked out after some lawmakers expressed similar concerns. For example, a provision allowing patients to grow marijuana was removed.

Driving while high would continue to be against the law.

The other states that permit medical use of marijuana are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

New Jersey’s legislation authorizes the Department of Health to issue to patients with “debilitating medical conditions’’ registry ID cards that allow them to use marijuana. Patients with specified diseases such as cancer and glaucoma must also demonstrate severe or chronic pain, nausea, seizures, muscle spasms or wasting syndrome to qualify.

Patients with registry cards could not be prosecuted for medical use of marijuana.

Gusciora said the legislation, titled the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, would be the nation’s strictest such law.

The Senate vote was 25 to 13.