New Jersey's largest university has declined a request from Gov. Chris Christie to become the lone grower of the state's medical marijuana crop. Suppliers are needed because of a new law allowing patients with chronic health conditions to access the drug.
The university issued a statement Friday saying marijuana's status as an illegal drug would jeopardize federal funding to the school. Rutgers received $552 million in federal funds last year, including research contracts, grants, student loans and work study.
"There is no way for Rutgers to be involved in this initiative without violating the federal Controlled Substances Act, which we will not do," the statement says. "If there is a change in federal law or a change in the classification of marijuana, Rutgers would be willing to re-examine a possible role for the university."
Rep. Reed Gusciora, D-Princeton, the main sponsor of the bill in the Assembly, called the university's decision "disappointing and premature."
"Here the governor is trying to promote the state university and they're saying 'thanks but no thanks,"' said Gusciora.
"We've been considering other options beyond the Rutgers plan, and we will continue working diligently to implement a high-quality and secure program for growing and distributing medical-use marijuana," Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said.
Rutgers President Richard McCormick and the dean of the agriculture experiment station did not immediately return telephone messages left for comment.
Chris Goldstein, a spokesman for the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey, said the program belongs in the hands of private business owners who have experience in the medical marijuana industry.
"Let's look at the real intent of the Christie administration," he said. "They want to nip the free-market medical marijuana industry in the bud before it has a chance to begin. From the aspect of control, it makes sense. From the aspect of getting a medical marijuana program up and running, it doesn't make sense."
The Legislature approved a plan earlier this year allowing patients with certain chronic illnesses to access marijuana.
Christie, a former federal prosecutor who wants tight control over production and distribution to guard against abuses, suggested the marijuana be grown by Rutgers and distributed by the state's teaching hospitals.
Lawmakers who sponsored the legislation agreed, provided that Rutgers didn't get a monopoly over cultivation.
The law making New Jersey the 14th state to allow medical marijuana use was signed by Gov. Jon Corzine on his final day in office in January.
Implementation has been delayed until January 2011 to give the Health Department time to work out details under which the first six nonprofit dispensaries would operate.
Gusciora said Rutgers' decision would not cause further delay.
He said the state has received hundreds of applications for the dispensary slots.