Law Would Protect Patients, Providers Against Arrest
TRENTON – Senator Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Union) today introduced a measure urging Governor Christie to support and advocate for federal legislation that would provide legal protection to patients who use medical marijuana in compliance with state laws.
The Senator’s bill would express the Legislature’s support and urge the Governor to support and advocate for H.R. 2835, known as the “Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act.” In states with legalized medical marijuana, H.R. 2835 would protect patients, prescribing doctors, distributors and anyone authorized to obtain, possess or distribute marijuana on behalf of a patient against arrest and prosecution by federal authorities.
“We need to be sure that New Jerseyans who comply with our medical marijuana law are not at risk of being harassed, arrested or prosecuted by federal law enforcement officials,” said Senator Scutari, the prime sponsor of the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.” “With this measure, we will send a unified message to the federal government that we support the rights of states with medical marijuana laws to carry them out, and that we believe patients deserve protections. We will also respectfully urge the Governor to join our effort to protect patients in New Jersey who are suffering with debilitating illnesses and seeking a small measure of relief through the medicinal use of marijuana.”
New Jersey is one of 14 states with laws allowing patients with debilitating illnesses to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Under federal law, however, it remains illegal to use, possess or cultivate marijuana and no physician can legally prescribe it. H.R. 2835 also would transfer marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to Schedule II, under the federal Controlled Substances Act, statutorily recognizing its medical value and allowing doctors to prescribe it.
“Nearly a third of the country has recognized the medical benefits of marijuana and passed laws permitting its use. I’m proud that we were among them, but I won’t be satisfied until we have assurances from the federal government that patients who are sick and dying will not be thrown behind bars in their attempt to get much-needed relief,” said Senator Scutari. “It’s time the federal government work to resolve conflicting state and federal policies that will put thousands of New Jersey patients, caregivers and doctors at risk of incarceration.”
The Senator’s measure follows reports that U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raids continue to take place in states with legalized medical marijuana, despite an October 2009 directive from the office of United States Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asserting that law enforcement should not focus federal resources “on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”
According to published reports, DEA officials raided the home of a Denver marijuana grower earlier this year after he spoke to a television news station about the profitability of his business. Two Colorado laboratories testing marijuana for pesticides and potency also were raided after they applied for licenses from the DEA. As a result, federal legislators in Colorado sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Holder calling for the raids to stop.
Noting the grower’s case, the Los Angeles Times has called for the federal government to provide more clarity on medical marijuana policy. The newspaper noted that it may not be possible to rely on further direction from the DEA because “it’s not entirely clear that (Acting DEA Administrator Michele) Leonhart ever received Holder’s memo.”
The “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” was signed into law January. The state is approaching an Oct. 1 deadline to begin implementation of the program, after a 90-day delay requested by the Christie Administration and agreed upon by the Legislature.