Chris Christie approves medical marijuana for children – conditionally

In a politically difficult decision, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has said he would allow the use of medical marijuana by children. But he has sent back to state lawmakers a bill he says is too lax.

Josh Reynolds/AP
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks to fellow Republicans, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 during the Republican National Committee summer meeting in Boston.

In a politically difficult decision, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – for now, at least – has said he would allow the use of medical marijuana by children.

With certain conditions, he has approved a bill that would give chronically ill children easier access to some marijuana products for medical purposes. But he also stipulated that a psychiatrist and a pediatrician would have to give their approval first – something not included in the measure he sent back to the state legislature.

Especially for a Republican governor soon facing reelection – and frequently mentioned as one among an increasing number of 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls – Governor Christie has to carefully balance such issues.

Marijuana – recreational or medical – can be tricky for ambitious conservatives navigating the differences between party factions. Public attitudes are shifting in the direction of legalization with voters in Colorado and Washington State recently approving pot’s recreational use. This weekend – just as Christie was announcing his decision on another issue involving marijuana – a three-day “Hempfest” marijuana festival was kicking off in Seattle.

In his decision announced Friday, Christie asserted that “parents, and not government regulators, are best suited to decide how to care for their children.”

He also said, “My heart goes out to those children and their families who are suffering with serious illnesses.”

“Today, I am making common-sense recommendations to this legislation to ensure sick children receive the treatment their parents prefer, while maintaining appropriate safeguards,” he said. “I am calling on the Legislature to reconvene quickly and address these issues so that children in need can get the treatment they need.”

Like the 19 other states that allow medical marijuana, New Jersey lets children use it. But unlike all but a few, the state law and regulations currently in place – considered perhaps the most stringent among states that allow medical pot at all – have additional hurdles for young patients.

The bill Christie is sending back to state lawmakers would have eased those hurdles, something he opposes.

“Notably, at least one recent study has indicated a rise in emergency hospitalizations in Colorado for accidental marijuana ingestion in children,” he said in his legislative message. “Protection of our children remains my utmost concern, and our regulations must make certain that children receive the care they need, while remaining well guarded from potential harm.”

The issue in New Jersey attracted broader attention this week when parent John Wilson confronted the governor during a campaign stop in a diner.

Mr. Wilson and his wife Meghan believe their 2-year-old daughter, Vivian, would benefit by using a certain form and strain of marijuana for the rare and sometimes deadly form of epilepsy she has been diagnosed with.

In a moment captured on video that made news shows and websites, Wilson told the governor, "Please don't let my daughter die."

Christie, who has raised concerns that it could be adults using pot recommended for their children, told him, "I know you think it's simple, but it's not.”

Wilson and his wife, who live in Scotch Plains, N.J., said in a statement Friday that they are disappointed Christie "decided to make it so difficult for parents, who are already enduring tremendous pain and heartache, to get approval for such a safe and simple medication."

The report includes material from the Associated Press.

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