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New Jersey legislature approves medical marijuana bill

[JURIST] The New Jersey Legislature [official website] on Monday approved a bill [text, PDF] that would legalize medical marijuana [JURIST news archive]. The legislation would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana [NYT report] to patients with chronic illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, Lou Gehrig's disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis, which would be distributed through state-monitored dispensaries. Nonetheless, the measure is among the nation's stricter [NPR report] medical marijuana laws, as it limits use to patients with specific types of severe chronic illnesses and forbids patients to grown their own marijuana or to use it in public. Despite some controversy, the bill passed easily in both houses, with a vote of 48-14 in the General Assembly and 25-13 in the State Senate. Democratic Governor Jon Corzine [official website] is set to sign the bill before leaving office next Tuesday, and it is expected to take effect within nine months.

This legislation would make New Jersey the fourteenth US state to legalize medical marijuana. In November, voters in Maine approved [JURIST report] an expansion [proposed legislation, PDF] of the state's existing medical marijuana laws, making Maine became the fifth state to allow dispensaries [ABC News report], following California, Colorado, Rhode Island, and New Mexico. In October, US Attorney General Eric Holder issued guidelines for a new policy [JURIST report] for investigating and prosecuting state-sanctioned medical marijuana use. Those guidelines reflect a pledge made by Holder in March to stop federal raids [JURIST report] on medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with state laws. Ending such raids was one of President Barack Obama's campaign promises [Boston Globe report], a view that differed sharply from the policy of the Bush administration.

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