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Marijuana is undergoing a rapid public relations makeover. In the past few years, marijuana’s image as a street drug has morphed into that of a legitimate medicine, now legal for use in 14 states.

The most recent state to legalize medical marijuana is New Jersey. Former governor Jon Corzine signed the medical marijuana bill shortly before leaving office in mid-January.

State Assemblyman Gary Schaer, who voted for the measure, told The Leader newspaper that the law is the most restrictive in the nation.

In New Jersey, prescriptions for medical marijuana can be written only for people with specific types of illnesses: cancer, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), glaucoma, seizure disorders, Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS), multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel disease and any terminal illness.

Those who receive prescriptions will have to get the drug from one of the licensed facilities in the state. Patients will not be allowed to grow their own marijuana. The law also requires designated caretakers who want to retrieve the drug on behalf of a patient to undergo a criminal background check.

The new Garden State law takes effect six months after being signed on January 18, 2011 by Corzine.

Opponents to the legislation said it would encourage use of the drug and give children the wrong impression about this substance many consider a “gateway drug.”

In California, patients need only written or oral permission from a physician in order to be able to grow or buy marijuana for their personal medicinal use.

In Oregon, patients are required to sign up on a state registry. If they are arrested for marijuana possession, and have failed to sign up for the registry, they can still present a “medical necessity” defense in court in order to avoid the $100 fine.

Here in New Jersey, simple possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana is typically considered a disorderly person offense, carrying a maximum of six months in county jail and up to a $1,000 fine, along with the possibility of community service and a probation period.

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