Christie gives the nod for medical marijuana

7/21/2011, 10:36 a.m.

After more than a year of intense discussion and bickering, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has finally given his approval for state-approved facilities to begin dispensing medical marijuana to eligible patients-despite a continued rift between state and federal regulators-officials announced earlier this week in Trenton.

Christie had delayed the implementation of legal medical marijuana dispensation to chronically ill patients, despite the fact that voters had approved the use of medical marijuana more than a year ago as former Gov. Jon Corzine was leaving office.

"We want to provide compassionate treatment to people who are suffering," Christie said. "Six dispensaries across the state will provide medical marijuana to qualified patients."

In June, Christie said he wanted hard-and-fast guarantees from the federal government that regulators would not seek criminal charges against any of the state sanctioned medical marijuana programs. While he did not receive that specific guarantee from the feds, the governor said he had researched countless legal briefs, consulted with members of the legal community, and is satisfied with the findings. "If they [marijuana dispensaries] operate outside of the law, then they will be subject to all federal and state law enforcement risks," he said.

In the past, Christie had expressed reservations about the entire medical marijuana debacle, citing legal, ethical, and moral reasons why the initiative should be scrapped. However, state advocates of the program lauded Christie's sudden change of heart about expediting and implementing the program. "It's an excellent decision," said Ken Wolski, a spokesperson for a grassroots organization called the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in NJ. "Patients will now be able to get the medicine they need."

Christie said the program will be up and running by the end of the year.