GARDEN STATE: What NJ Makes, The World Takes?


INQUIRER: New Jersey’s pharmaceutical industry, its scientists and technicians and sales reps in the bright office parks and steaming lab complexes that sprawl across the state and down Route 202 into Pennsylvania, is folding in on itself. Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, outside Newark, said yesterday that it had agreed to absorb Schering-Plough, based in Kenilworth, about 25 miles west on I-78. To make the deal pay, Merck plans to shave about $3.5 billion from yearly expenses, equal to about a third of its operating costs. And Pfizer, of New York, is planning to buy Wyeth, based in suburban Madison. The likely local result of each deal: a few thousand jobs lost. See news story, A1.

Meanwhile, Gov. Corzine and a majority of the New Jersey Senate are on record backing plans to, in effect, create a new drug industry, joining California and other states that have legalized marijuana for home use on doctors’ recommendations. In California, marijuana is a significant, integrated business, though numbers are tough to nail down. Growers, concentrated in mountain counties, supply state-sanctioned clinics in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas at the request of doctors who sometimes have broad ideas about what the drug can do, and for whom.

But even out on the Left Coast, there’s a mom-and-pop, small-batch, carry-a-gun quality to the business. That’s njweedman_vs_unclesam_2.jpgbecause marijuana production and distribution is still a federal crime. […] The Democratic takeover of Washington seems to be giving pot a nudge. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last month that he’d back off on raiding California distributors that were legal under state law. That has marijuana lobbyists in Sacramento hoping larger-scale production might also be on the way. One group is even suggesting a tax of around a dollar a joint to make drugs more welcome for the cash-strapped state government.

Back at the Shore, State Sen. Jim Whelan (D., Atlantic) told me that he and State Sen. Nicholas P. Scutari (D., Union) were sponsoring the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which the Senate passed last month, to help sick and dying people, not create a new business. “Obviously, someone would have to be able to grow marijuana and bring it to market,” Whelan told me. “I don’t think that would be a huge economic generator. That aspect of it has never come up.” The sponsors can’t say how much marijuana that registered smokers would need.

The state’s county agricultural boards are starting to show interest in those questions, said Ed Wengryn, field rep for the 14,000-member New Jersey Farm Bureau. “New Jersey would be suitable, temperature-wise,” for growing the plants, he said. “How many prescriptions for medical marijuana would there be? Would they limit prescriptions to only marijuana grown in the state? Can we be competitive with growers in other parts of the country? MORE

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