Trying to straddle a potentially dangerous social issue, Governor Chris Christie agreed on Friday to expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, but stopped short of what parents of children with life-threatening diseases say is necessary to improve their access to treatment.
Christie would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to provide edible marijuana, but only for children. Parents say the edible product provides the benefits, but not the high, of marijuana, and makes it easier to treat children who are too impaired to smoke. Christie also eliminated a part of the law that limits to three the number of strains of marijuana that dispensaries can cultivate.
However, the legislature had approved a bill aligning regulations for children with what is required for adults in the program, which is already considered the nation’s strictest. Children, like adults, could be prescribed marijuana by a doctor registered with the state, under the proposal.
Christie vetoed that part of the legislation, keeping in place the requirement that parents have letters of support from a pediatrician and a psychiatrist, as well as a prescription from a doctor registered in the program. Of about 250 doctors on the state registry, two are pediatricians and 16 are psychiatrists.
Parents who had lobbied for the bill said that requirement would make it harder to obtain medical marijuana because pediatricians and psychiatrists often know so little about the program that they do not want to support it, and finding a registered doctor willing to prescribe to a child is already difficult.
“It’s forcing people to shop around for physicians and parents of sick kids don’t have time for that,” said Meghan Wilson, whose two-year-old daughter, Vivian, suffers from Dravet syndrome, which causes seizures so severe that she cannot be in the sunshine or near brightly colored objects.
Parents in other states have found that a particular strain of medical marijuana greatly reduces the frequency and duration of seizures for children with Dravet.
Christie, a Republican who is considered a leading contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016, was pushed to make his decision in the national spotlight this week after Vivian’s father, Brian, confronted him during what was supposed to be a victory lap at a diner in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, where the mayor was endorsing the governor’s bid for re-election.
Christie’s motorcade arrived to bright pink signs and several dozen people urging him to sign the bill expanding medical marijuana. Wilson, who lives there, had written “father and voter” on his T-shirt. He waited in the diner for three hours to confront Christie.
Christie largely ignored the signs and Wilson while he posed for photos. When Wilson finally asked the governor whether he would sign the bill, Christie replied: “These are complicated issues.”
As Wilson persisted, Christie replied: “Listen, I know you think it’s simple. It’s simple for you, it’s not simple for me. I’ve read everything that you have put in front of me and I’ll have a decision by Friday. I wish the best for you, your daughter and your family, and I’m going to do what I think is best for the people of the state, all the people of the state.”
As the governor turned away, Wilson pleaded, in a scene captured on widely disseminated news videos: “Please don’t let my daughter die, governor.”