Patients need Christie to be a ‘compassionate conservative’ on medical marijuana

This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.

Despite being legal, medical marijuana patients are suffering in New Jersey thanks to the foot-dragging of a conservative Governor who would rather fight for sports betting than stand up for suffering cancer patients. 

Compassionate conservativism is a phrase most associated with former President George W. Bush, who intended to craft a message around the belief that the government should encourage effective social services without providing the service itself. 

One could say medical marijuana in New Jersey could qualify as “compassionate conservativism,” as it positions the government in the support role of private distribution centers. Unfortunately, patients in New Jersey suffer needlessly due to bureaucratic foot-dragging by a governor who is nether compassionate nor conservative on the issue.

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Technically, New Jersey is one of 18 states (along with the District of Columbia) to allow marijuana to be prescribed for medical purposes. But ask anyone seeking care in South Jersey, and it might as well still be illegal. New Jersey’s medical marijuana laws are by far the strictest set of laws in the country, and include potency caps, limits on sales and growing to state-approved distribution centers and a public registry of state-approved doctors who are allowed to prescribe it – the only such registry in the country.

Not only have doctors been slow to register to become a state-approved medical marijuana prescribers, only one of six marijuana treatment centers approved in the state has opened, and they’re too overwhelmed to serve everyone. Several other treatment centers face problems with local governments approving their locations. And on top of that, patients will still need to shell out up to $700 for a prescription, including $200 to the state just to obtain their medical marijuana ID card.

Interesting, it’s a small-government conservative who is helping to hold up progress. While Chris Christie may talk to his friends and donors at the Heritage Foundation about limited government and personal freedom, when it comes to medical marijuana, big government is good government. 

Christie’s philosophy on medical marijuana is if suffering people “have to go through more regulatory hoops to make sure only the truly sick and suffering get this, then that is what we are going to do.” Order before pain, government before compassion. It might explain his past efforts against decriminalizing marijuana in New Jersey.

A good example of government overreach is the case of John Ray Wilson, a multiple sclerosis patient who was sentenced to five years in prison for growing pot in his backyard. He was released from jail after five months and admitted into the state Intensive Supervision Program after he lost 40 pounds in jail. In lieu of the state’s legalization of medical marijuana, and the nature of Wilson’s suffering, Christie could have granted him clemency. He didn’t, telling radio listeners on NJ 101.5, “I think he has got to go to jail and stay there.

Our entire system is backwards. Acetaminophen has been a leading cause of acute liver failure, yet you can go into any store and purchase it. Yet try to grow pot in a state where medical marijuana is legal, and you’ll be greeted with a prison sentence. So much for personal responsibility. 

Christie has also said the slow progress of the state’s medical marijuana program and the unneeded suffering it has forced onto many patients is not a “crisis.”

This comes as a slap in the face to patients like Risa Sanders, a Long Branch resident who is still waiting to get a doctor’s appointment, despite being one of the first approved under the state’s program. “(Gov.) Chris Christie has made this so restrictive and with so many hoops to go through to be a legit, the law is unworkable,” Sanders told the Star-Ledger. “I don’t see the law getting more realistic until we get a new governor.”

According to Assemblyman Reed Gusciors, there are more than 50,000 cancer patients and 36,000 residents with HIV who could benefit from the state’s medical marijuana program, but only about 700 have been approved by the state.

But it’s not just Democrats who are calling on Christie to fix the program. Republican Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, whose nomination to the state Supreme Court was pulled back because he’s too conservative, said, “My philosophy on New Jersey’s medical marijuana law is that we should be empowering doctors to treat their patients as they see fit and not have lawyers or bureaucrats standing in the way.”

The big government approach to medical marijuana isn’t exclusive to New Jersey. For years, the federal policy on its use hasn’t kept pace with scientific advances, and its illegal status has prevented the industry from working on things like endocannabinoid compounds that could provide analgesic relief. 

But Christie has shown a willingness (and a certain gleefulness) in taking on the federal government on issues that matter to him, like legalizing sports betting in the state. It too is illegal here, but that hasn’t stopped Christie from taking almost every step within his power to fight for the right of gambling-obsessed sports fans to plunk down their hard-earned dough on the result of some sports match. 

 I just wish he showed the same attitude when it came to suffering patients in need.


Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.

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