New Jersey: Assembly Overwhelmingly Approves Medical Marijuana For Children
By Steve Elliott
A two-year-old New Jersey girl and other sick kids who qualify for medical marijuana are closer to getting the treatment they need after the New Jersey Assembly on Monday overwhelmingly approved changes in the regulations.
Vivian Wilson, a toddler who has a rare and severe form of epilepsy which causes multiple seizures every day, in February was issued a card qualifying her to get medical marijuana, but has faced a number of hurdles, including a ban on edible forms of cannabis, reports Jan Hefler at The Inquirer.
Lawmakers, moved by little Vivian's story, overwhelmingly passed a bill in June to reverse the ban on medibles and to make other changes making it easier for kids to get medicinal cannabis, but last month were asked to revisit the issue after Gov. Chris Christie attached specific recommendations to his veto.
A few weeks later, the New Jersey Senate approved the recommendations, and the Assembly on Monday followed suit with a 70-1 vote, with four abstentions.
The revised bill now returns to Gov. Christie's desk for his signature.
"We are happy that this is finally being signed into law," reads a statement from Vivian's parents, Brian and Meghan Wilson. "Our next focus will be working with [state Health Commissioner] Mary E. O'Dowd and Department of Health to ensure that this law is properly regulated according to the true intent of the law so that Vivian and all of the other patients in New Jersey can finally start getting the type of medicine they need in the form they need."
Vivian has so far been unable to get marijuana, partly because of the problems with New Jersey's medical cannabis law and partly because only one dispensary -- which cannot meet the demand -- has opened so far.
"For Vivian and many children like her, marijuana may be the only treatment that can provide life-changing relief," said Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Middlesex), a prime sponsor of the bill. "As a state, we should not stand in the way of that."
The New Jersey Legislature had originally passed a bill allowing edible marijuana to be sold to all registered medical marijuana patients, but Gov. Christie, evidently a marijuana-phobe, insisted that medibles be restricted to children.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), another sponsor, said he would have preferred that elderly patients and others who cannot smoke also be eligible for edible marijuana, including capsules and tincture.
Gov. Christie got into a heated exchange last month with Brian Wilson at a campaign stop, who questioned why Christie had not signed the bill for two months, telling the Governor, "Please don't let my daughter die." Wilson's daughter has frequent seizures that could shorten her life, and cannabis has helped epileptic children with Vivian's condition who live in other states.
Christie's weak reply was that the bill raised "complicated issues."
"It's simple for you; it's not simple for me," Christie claimed. "I'm going to do what's best for the people of the state, all the people of the state."
Christie, a Republican, has repeatedly said he wants "strict regulations" to keep anyone who isn't really sick from getting access to marijuana.
Wilson blamed politics for Christie's wishy-washy stance, saying the Governor is concerned about his conservative base as he considers a run in the 2016 Presidential primaries.
An additional change in the revised bill allows dispensaries to cultivate more than three strains of cannabis.
The Wilsons have said that the three-strain limit makes it very difficult to obtain a marijuana strain tailored to only a small percentage of patients. Children with the rate form of epilepsy, Meghan Wilson said, require a strain that is high in CBD and low in THC, the ingredient chiefly responsible for the marijuana high.
Christie let that amendment stand, but opposed another that would have required children get the approval of only one physician to be authorized for medicinal cannabis. Currently, children must have both a psychiatrist and a pediatrician sign off on their medical marijuana authorization, and if neither of them is registered, they need to enlist a third doctor.
"Requiring a psychiatrist is a pointless hurdle," said Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon (R-Monmouth). He noted that he helped the Wilsons find a psychiatrist so that Vivian could qualify to use cannabis, and he said that was a difficult process.
O'Scanlon called the bill "real progress," but said the psychiatrist requirement is unfortunate because "there is a dearth of psychiatrists willing to participate."
(Photo of Meghan and Vivian Wilson at their Scotch Plains, N.J., home: April Saul/The Inquirer)