WE FEEL there is no question about it: The careful, legal distribution of medicinal marijuana to those in need is a good thing. The New Jersey Legislature agreed and passed legislation permitting distribution last January. Then-Gov. Jon Corzine signed the measure before leaving office.
But Governor Christie has requested a delay in its implementation, and a proposal to modify the system of distribution is cause for concern.
More than a year ago, Seton Hall Law’s Center for Health and Pharmaceutical Law and Policy distributed a position paper to New Jersey lawmakers urging passage of the marijuana measure, called the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.” The center did so citing the inclusion of “multiple measures designed to reduce the risk of abuse or diversion” and noting that “the medical literature supports the conclusion that smoked marijuana can provide relief to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions for whom conventional treatments have failed.”
The act was to have taken effect this month, but, in response to a request from Christie, the Legislature pushed back the effective date to October.
As passed, the act provides that medical marijuana be grown and distributed by six not-for-profit “alternative treatment centers.”
But now, the New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals has proposed that the act be amended before it is even implemented to provide that medical marijuana instead be grown by Rutgers University and distributed by the state’s teaching hospitals.
While hospitals are, as the Council of Teaching Hospitals points out, experienced dispensers of medicine, the act should not be rewritten to require them to dispense medical marijuana.
The passage of the act affects the rights and responsibilities of patients and providers of medical marijuana under New Jersey law; it does not change the fact that distribution and use of marijuana are illegal under federal law.
Although Attorney General Eric Holder has pledged not to prosecute patients and providers who comply with applicable state laws, and hospitals could thus dispense medical marijuana without fear of criminal prosecution, they would still be violating federal law.
Condition of participation
This is a problem because compliance with federal law is a condition of participation in the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Hospitals depend heavily on Medicaid and Medicare funding; the Compassionate Use Act’s alternative treatment centers would not.