Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that he will allow New Jersey to move forward in implementing its medical marijuana law despite his concerns over whether federal authorities could prosecute state regulators.
Christie previously said that he would wait before moving forward because he wanted assurance from the U.S. Justice Department that it wouldn't pursue criminal charges against state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs.
Christie never received blanket assurance from the Justice Department, but on Tuesday, Christie said the decision to move forward was a risk he was willing to take as governor. The republican governor said he was drawing upon his seven years of experience as New Jersey's U.S. attorney in anticipating that federal prosecutors have more important crimes to pursue.
“It is my belief, having held that job for seven years, that there's a lot of other things that will be more important as long as the dispensaries operate within the law,”he said
New Jersey legalized marijuana for patients with certain conditions last year as Gov. Jon Corzine was leaving office. But the law's implementation was delayed as the state labored over regulatory details.
Christie has said he supports the concept of medical marijuana for patients for some conditions but didn't think the law was tough enough and wouldn't have signed it into law. Christie's critics say he has used the regulatory process to change the law, even though it's considered among the most restrictive.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana, with programs in various phases of development.
This year, six nonprofit groups were awarded licenses to grow and sell pot to patients with conditions such as terminal cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. Some patients say the drug eases pain and nausea. But so far, none has been legally sold because the
state has not created a registry of patients who can use the drug.
Some of the groups licensed to grow marijuana have said they realize they would be violating federal law and are willing to risk prosecution to launch their businesses. The organizations that are allowed to grow and sell marijuana to patients with certain medical conditions are not-for-profit but the size of the operations is unclear since they haven't been allowed to start dispensing the drug.