The Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, was very concerned about his state’s medical marijuana program. “I want New Jersey to be a compassionate state. And for people who this is your only option to get pain relief, for those who are terminally ill, (and) are chronically ill, we've authorized it,” the governor told the public.
Paula and Phil were very concerned about their little baby girl, Sabina Rose. The fifteen-month-old was a darling child, but suffered from a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. No pharmaceutical treatment would stop the severe seizures she would suffer sometimes multiple times a day. Soon Paula and Phil found Meghan and Brian Wilson, parents of another child with Dravet who had been lobbying Governor Christie to expand access to medical marijuana for minors.
Governor Christie would abide none of the talk of medical marijuana for kids. “I am not going to allow New Jersey to become a California or a Colorado where someone can fake a headache and get a bag of pot on every corner,” said the governor. “So I'm very concerned, if we go down this slope of allowing minors to use this, where it ends.”
Paula and Phil jumped over every ridiculously high hurdle Governor Christie’s “compassionate” medical marijuana program created to restrict youth access. In New Jersey, unlike any other medical marijuana state, a doctor must register with the medical marijuana program in order to recommend cannabis. The couple found a registered doctor who was willing to help a fifteen-month-old patient. Then the law required the couple to find a registered pediatrician for a second opinion supporting medical cannabis use for Sabina Rose, and they did. Then they had to find a registered psychiatrist for a third opinion agreeing with cannabis treatment, and they did, finally, sending their completed paperwork and $200 fee to the state early last week.
Governor Christie had a chance to remove some of those hurdles when a bill reached his desk that would have eliminated the need for three doctors to approve medical marijuana for kids. He vetoed that portion of the legislation, leaving parents with severely disabled children in New Jersey the difficulty of getting a first opinion from just 250 doctors registered in the state, a second opinion from one of 2 pediatricians, and a third opinion from one of 16 psychiatrists.
Brian and Meghan had been lobbying the governor for access to the breakthrough cannabis oil high in cannabidiol (CBD) from the “Charlotte’s Web” plant. Since the story of Charlotte Figi aired on the CNN documentary Weed, parents across the country whose children suffer from Dravet have been clamoring for this marijuana concentrate. Little Charlotte went from hundreds of seizures a week that threatened her cognitive development and her life to barely one seizure a week. The CBD oil she uses is so low in THC, lawmakers in Utah are considering legal importation of the oil as a hemp product, akin to a hemp soap, lotion, and seeds that also cannot get the user high. Paula and Phil had hoped to try the CBD oil on Sabina Rose, but it is unavailable in New Jersey, partially thanks to severe cultivation restrictions Governor Christie put in place for the state’s one medical grow site.
To provide some emergency relief for the children of parents like Paula and Phil and Meghan and Brian, lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow registered patients in New Jersey to travel to other medical marijuana states, like Colorado, and bring back the cannabis oil medicine to save their children. Governor Christie blasted that move yesterday, saying, “See this is what happens. Every time you sign one expansion, then the advocates will come back and ask for another one. Here's what the advocates want: they want legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. It will not happen on my watch, ever. I am done expanding the medical marijuana program under any circumstances. So we're done.”
On November 27th, Sabina Rose suffered a seizure that lasted twenty-five hours. Despite using all the pharmaceutical rescue medications at the hospital’s disposal, Sabina Rose had to be placed into a medically-induced coma with severe brain damage. Sabina Rose died yesterday as Governor Christie was telling reporters, “There's no outpouring of people signing up for this program. This is another one of those narrow group-think policies put forward by the Legislature and I'm not going to continue to expand it. Because what they want is legalization. They're not getting legalization under this governor.”
Regardless where one stands on legalization of adults getting high on marijuana, one must understand that the CBD oil these parents are fighting for will never get anyone high and will save children’s lives. Unless one is Governor Chris Christie, who would rather let kids die than let adults get high.
"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of "The Russ Belville Show."