Medical Pot Activists Ask State to Ease Access

Children with a rare form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, their parents and medical marijuana proponents gathered in New Jersey's State House on Thursday to make a plea for Gov. Chris Christie to sign a bill that would ease access to pot for kids with certain conditions.

Brian Wilson, whose 2-year-old daughter Vivian has Dravet and is prone to violent seizures, said that as it stands, the state's medical marijuana law makes it unlikely that his daughter will be able to get relief in the form she needs.

“The difficulty has been getting people to understand that we're not looking to get children high,” he said as he held Vivian, who wears a patch on one eye and sunglasses to cut the risk of seizure.

Wilson said that elsewhere, ingestible extracts of certain strains of marijuana - high in a compound known as CBD and low in THC, the chemical that gets pot users high - have helped children with the condition. But New Jersey's dispensaries are limited to growing only three strains. They're also allowed to produce cannabis only to be smoked, taken as lozenges or used in interdermal patches; Wilson said Vivian should be able to get the drug in an extracted form that she can swallow.

A bill adopted by the Legislature in June would Bill would increase number of permissible strains; make them available in more forms, including edible; and require juvenile patients to jump through fewer hoops to get medical marijuana.

Christie has until Aug. 8 to take action by signing it, vetoing it or issuing a conditional veto that sends it back to lawmakers with instructions on what changes they could make that he would find acceptable.

Supporters of the changes delivered 2,000 letters on their behalf to Christie's office Thursday.

Christie suggested on a radio show Wednesday night that while he is reviewing the bill, he might not sign it as-is. One of his concerns, he said, is that people other than the children cleared to use it wouldn't be the only ones who do.

“I know parents are concerned about the health of their children,” Christie said Wednesday on TownSquare Media. “I have to be concerned about the health of every child.”

Brian Wilson, whose family lives in Scotch Plains, said he and other advocates have not been able to get a meeting with Christie on the issue. And they didn't get one Thursday as Christie was attending meetings in Nevada.

The state did offer perhaps a sliver of hope for patients like Vivian on Thursday afternoon when it announced that approved medical marijuana patients can begin registering next week as clients of a second dispensary.

Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd said the treatment center, Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor, plans to offer a high CBD-low THC drug when it opens next month. The nonprofit received the state's permission to start growing cannabis in June.

But at the moment, there is no place for registered medical marijuana patients in the state to get pot legally. The one dispensary that has opened - Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair - has been closed since late June. The state says the facility informed it that it was low on inventory.


Copyright AP - Associated Press
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