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Christie says he's willing to consider making changes to New Jersey's medical marijuana laws

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FAIRFIELD, New Jersey — Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday that he is willing to consider further changes to help New Jersey children with a rare form of epilepsy access medical marijuana after legal changes he approved last year did not make it available to them.

He said he may be willing to require dispensaries to supply the appropriate strain but remains unwilling to consider legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.

"I'm open to making those changes but what I fear is that a lot of people use really tragic circumstances as an excuse to say, 'Let's legalize,'" he said. "I've got to walk that line and I'm going to try to walk that line with you."

He made the concession at a town hall meeting when he was confronted by the mother of a 15-month-old girl who died in December after a seizure caused by Dravet Syndrome, a form of epilepsy that is rare and often fatal.

Paula Joana said afterward that her daughter, Sabina Rose Joana, would still be alive if a certain strain of marijuana were available in edible form in New Jersey. She said that it controls seizures in a way that pharmaceutical drugs do not.

None of the state's three legal dispensaries have it. Christie said he believes that is because the demand is so low that the dispensaries — technically nonprofits —would not make money producing it. He said that is a reason he would prefer the drug be made available only through hospitals.

Medical marijuana advocates have pushed Christie for more access for years.

Just before he took office, predecessor Jon Corzine signed a law allowing medical marijuana in the state. It took nearly three years before the first dispensary in New Jersey was open.

Last year, the parents of another little girl with Dravet became leaders in a push to allow edible forms of cannabis for kids with conditions that qualified them to use the drug under the state's law and to end a restriction that allowed each dispensary to grow only three strains. Christie agreed to that, but he did not agree to the other item Brian and Meghan Wilson asked for: access to the drug with fewer doctor approvals for children.

When Christie made the changes last year, he indicated he was reluctant to go farther than that.

The Wilson's, with their daughter, Vivian, have since moved to Colorado, where a low-THC form of marijuana given to children with Dravet is available in an edible form.

And Sabia Rose Joana has become the new face of the issue.

Her mother has called Christie's office frequently but had not spoken with him directly until Wednesday.

Ken Wolski, director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey, said Wednesday that he is glad to hear Christie say that the changes made last year have not worked, but he remains skeptical that the governor will take action that will help patients.

"We're looking for some program that works," he said.

He said his group now supports legalization of all marijuana.


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