As news cameras clicked, the parents of a 2-year-old girl with severe epilepsy arrived at South Jersey's first medical marijuana dispensary to buy her an ounce when it opened six weeks ago.
But the green buds sold by the Compassionate Care Foundation clinic in Egg Harbor Township ended up being worthless to them, because Vivian Wilson cannot smoke. Brian Wilson of Scotch Plains said he tried reducing the marijuana to an oil for his daughter so she could ingest it - which is how some epileptic children in Colorado take it - but he found out there were no medical laboratories in the state that were able to test it to determine its safety and the dosing.
A bill scheduled to be introduced Thursday in the Health and Senior Services Committee of the Assembly would allow Wilson and others to buy marijuana oil directly from a dispensary in Colorado or in other states where parents have reported success with the drug. Called the marijuana reciprocity bill, it would permit registered patients in New Jersey to purchase cannabis at out-of-state licensed dispensaries and would also permit nonresidents to purchase it in New Jersey as long as they had a license elsewhere and a doctor's approval. Amounts would be restricted.
But in a news conference this month, Gov. Christie said he would veto such a bill, saying it would expand the state's tightly regulated medical marijuana program. "Here's what the advocates [of medical marijuana] want. They want legalization of marijuana in New Jersey," he said. "It will not happen on my watch, ever."
Wilson and his wife, Meghan, along with other medical marijuana advocates, began battling with Christie last summer when Christie hinted he might veto a bill that had proposed lifting the state's ban on marijuana edibles. "Please don't let my daughter die, governor," Brian Wilson implored Christie at a campaign stop in Scotch Plains in August when he was running for governor. Christie said he was not inclined to support marijuana for children, but at that time, Vivian Wilson had already been issued a state license by the Department of Health. Three doctors had approved her taking it in an effort to stop her frequent and life-threatening seizures.
The video went viral, and Christie signed the bill after the Legislature agreed to make changes. He wanted the edibles limited to children, sparking criticism from advocates that elderly patients would be deprived the chance to take cannabis in edible form. He also had the legislators restore a requirement that children get two to three doctors to sign off on the drug, including a psychiatrist, though few in that specialty have been found by the Wilsons to be willing to do so.
Christie said that in the future, he would not approve amendments to the program "under any circumstances."
Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D., Union), the prime sponsor of the reciprocity bill, said the bill did not call for legalization of the drug for recreational use, but enabled sick children to get the medicine they needed. She said Christie's remarks showed he was "turning his back on these sick children," whose conditions did not improve with traditional drugs.
Stender said a 15-month-old North Jersey girl who had seizures for six hours died over the Thanksgiving holiday while waiting to receive state approval to take cannabis. The parents, she said, spent months obtaining the required doctors' approvals and were waiting for a reply to their application when the baby was hospitalized.
"The medical needs of these sick children are heartbreaking," Stender said, adding that this child and Vivian Wilson had already been given traditional and trial drugs without success. "We can help them, and medical marijuana would make a difference in their lives," she said, pointing to studies that have found that some ingredients in cannabis were effective in stopping seizures.
An identical bill sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D., Union) was expected to be introduced Monday in the Senate.
Stender said legislators wanted to get the bill passed before the new legislative session is to begin in mid-January.