New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday asked for changes in a medical marijuana bill to to ease access to the drug for ill children.
Christie signaled that he would sign the bill if the Legislature changed it to stipulate that edible forms of marijuana would be available only to qualified minors, and that a pediatrician and psychiatrist had to approve a child's prescription.
"Today, I am making common sense recommendations to this legislation to ensure sick children receive the treatment their parents prefer, while maintaining appropriate safeguards," Christie said in a statement.
Christie agreed to allow sick children access to forms of pot that can be eaten. The move is supported by parents worried that the dry-leaf and lozenge forms of the drug pose health concerns.
He also supported removing a limit on the number of marijuana strains that state dispensaries can provide. That would give patients, adults and children, a variety of marijuana strains to choose from; advocates say different strains carry different medicinal properties.
Christie's decision came two days after he was confronted at a campaign stop by an epileptic girl's father, who says the new bill would make it easier for her get a version of medical marijuana she needs.
"Please don't let my daughter die," parent Brian Wilson cried to the governor in a moment caught by television cameras.
Wilson's 2-year-old daughter, Vivian, suffers a version of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome that can cause life-ending seizures. Wilson contends that a certain type of medical marijuana — one with high levels of a compound called CBD and low levels of THC, the chemical that gets pot users high — could help control her seizures.
Limited by law to providing only three strains, the state's single currently operating dispensary does not offer the high-CBD marijuana that Wilson believes would help.
Christie, who is believed to be a contender in the 2016 presidential election, shot back at Wilson during their Wednesday encounter that "these are complicated issues." Christie had been criticized by medical marijuana advocates for failing to act on the bill for nearly two months. He has raised concerns that adults could exploit a bill intended to help children.
"I know you think it's simple and it's not," he told Wilson.
Wilson and his wife, Meghan, of Scotch Plains, faulted Christie in a statement Friday for deciding "to make it so difficult for parents, who are already enduring tremendous pain and heartache, to get approval for such a safe and simple medication."
New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat, echoed Wilson's disappointment in Christie for the "extra burdens" his version of the bill would place on parents. But he said he was "pleased to see the governor open to allowing this program to move forward."
New Jersey is one of 20 states that allow medical marijuana, but has among the most stringent restrictions, especially for young patients.