Garden State medical marijuana advocates hope for boost from Booker bill

 U.S. Sen. Cory Booker unveiled a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana. (AP file photo)

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker unveiled a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana. (AP file photo)

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker unveiled a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana.

“Our federal government has long overstepped the boundaries of common sense, fiscal prudence and compassion with its marijuana laws,” the New Jersey legislator said at a news conference in Washington, D.C.  “These laws must change.”

Booker’s bill, co-sponsored by fellow Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, would effectively end the federal government’s war on weed, reclassifying the drug and making it easier to use, prescribe, and cultivate in states nationwide.

“We don’t want doctors to be punished for simply trying to help people,” Paul said.

Advocates for medical marijuana use in New Jersey hope Booker’s bill paves the way for the full implementation of New Jersey’s own medical marijuana laws.

Ken Wolski, a registered nurse and the founder of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey, said that despite the fact that the drug has been legal for medical use in the Garden State since 2010, the lack of support from the Christie administration has slowed its use.

“Gov. Christie came into office in 2010, right after the bill was passed,” Wolski siad. ” He’s been putting into effect a series of delays and stumbling blocks in the implementation of this law through the regulatory process.”

Wolski said that the numerous federal laws against marijuana create many opportunities for opponents like Christie, who has called medical marijuana a “front” for full legalization, which he staunchly opposes.

If Booker’s bill should pass, Wolski said, it would make it easier for Garden State residents to use, grow and purchase.

“Marijuana has enormous therapeutic potential,” Wolski said. “Just for chronic pain alone, marijuana is far safer than the narcotics prescribed to manage chronic pain.”

States with robust medical marijuana programs have significantly fewer overdose deaths involving narcotics, Wolski said. The drug is also useful for treating glaucoma and epilepsy.

And while the bill’s prospects in the Republican Congress are unclear, some shifts may be under way when it comes to the the political support for marijuana. Bill co-sponsor Paul has his eyes on the White House.

Two other Republican presidential contenders, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, also support allowing states to legalize medical use of the drug. Among the aspects appealing to conservatives: empowering local governments, and boosting tax revenues.

“My guess is that even more tax money would be paid if [marijuana businesses] were allowed to keep their money in banks and not brown bags,” Paul said.

 

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