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Reassured on drug crimes, Governor OKs medical marijuana

After putting the brakes on New Jersey's medical marijuana program in April, Gov. Chris Christie said last week that he has reversed course.

He's ordering the state health department to implement the program "as expeditiously as possible," he said in a news conference.

Christie had been concerned that state employees might be subject to arrest on federal drug charges, including drug trafficking or marijuana possession accusations.

He had been hoping to get assurances from the federal government that it wouldn't arrest New Jersey state employees, but didn't receive any. Nevertheless, the former U.S. Attorney said he felt reassured after reviewing a federal memo and reading comments made by presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

Possession and sales of marijuana remain federal crimes in all 50 states, though 16 states have enacted their own medical marijuana statutes.

Christie said he hopes to bring "compassionate care to the people who need it most," while avoiding abuses of the system he said are frequent in California and Colorado.

Critics of the medical marijuana programs in those states have complained that it's too easy for people who don't suffer from qualifying ailments to receive prescriptions for the drug there.

Christie and other state officials aren't yet able to say when New Jersey residents with qualifying illnesses will be able to purchase or grow small amounts of cannabis here.

Health care advocates hailed the decision, saying it will give relief to a number of seriously ill and terminal patients. Marijuana reportedly helps some patients with pain relief and others with vision problems and still others to acquire an appetite.

Source: "Gov. Christie gives green light for N.J. medical marijuana program": July 19, 2011