TRENTON – New Jersey lawmakers considered a number of controversial bills during the final days of the lame-duck legislative session, which ended Monday.
Legislators passed a bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana on Monday, but the state Senate rejected a measure that would have legalized marriage for homosexual couples last week. Lawmakers did not even schedule a vote on a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants who live in New Jersey to pay the lower in-state tuition at state colleges.
The bill to legalize marijuana use for medicinal purposes for those suffering from chronic and terminal diseases was approved by the Assembly by a vote of 48-14, and passed in the state Senate by a vote of 25-13. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine is expected to sign the bill into law before his term ends.
“This bill recognizes that compassion for the sick and dying and adherence to our nation’s war on illegal drugs are not mutually exclusive ideals,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union & Middlesex), a sponsor of the bill.
Under the bill, the Department of Health and Senior Services would be authorized to issue registry identification cards to qualifying patients who have been diagnosed by a licensed physician with whom they have an existing relationship, as having a “debilitating medical condition” to use medical marijuana.
The bill would also allow for the establishment, registration and administration of alternative treatment centers, entities which would acquire, possess, cultivate, manufacture, deliver or dispense marijuana or related supplies and educational materials to registered qualifying patients.
Under the bill, the debilitating medical conditions which would authorize the prescription of medical marijuana include: cancer, glaucoma, positive HIV/AIDS status or other chronic, debilitating diseases or medical conditions that produce, or the treatment of which produces, wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasms. The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services would have the authority to include other medical conditions as it sees fit.
The bill would expressly prohibit anyone under the influence of marijuana from operating a motor vehicle, aircraft or motorboat, and prohibits the use of medical marijuana in a school bus or other form of public transportation, on school grounds, in any correctional facility, or at any public park, beach or recreational or youth center.
Last week, the state Senate rejected a bill sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) aimed at legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey by a vote of 14 to 20.
New Jersey took center stage in the debate over same-sex marriage as the state senate considered the bill but prior to the vote, Lesniak said he expected trouble ahead for Democrats.
“The way I look at it to a large extent is the Democratic Party in this state has lost its moral compass,” said Lesniak. “We have to get that back. And if you don’t start standing up for principles and beliefs, civil rights and human rights, then we’re going to have difficulty in the elections coming up.”
Advocates of the bill were disappointed in the results.
“The New Jersey legislature defaulted on its constitutional obligation to provide same-sex couples in New Jersey equal protection, as unanimously mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2006,” said Steven Goldstein, president of Garden State Equality, the group that spearheaded the push for same sex marriage.
“That’s why we at Garden State Equality are here with our partner Lambda Legal, which has an extraordinary track record of advancing LGBT civil rights in the courts,” said Goldstein, who announced that the two organizations are going back to court.
Local Democrats Sen. Joseph Vitale, Sen. Nicholas Scutari and Sen. Bob Smith voted for the bill, while Union County Republican Sen. Tom Kean Jr. voted against it.
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