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Christie approves medical marijuana law for New Jersey

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Doctors in New Jersey will be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana after Governor Chris Christie said on Tuesday he will let new legislation originally signed by his predecessor be implemented.

New Jersey will join 15 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing marijuana for medical use, although the New Jersey legislation is more restrictive than elsewhere.

Only patients in New Jersey suffering from specific ailments such as HIV, cancer and multiple sclerosis can be prescribed medical marijuana, and then only after other treatments have failed.

The law also is the first in the nation to prohibit patients from growing their own crop at home.

"This is one of those decisions that's not an easy one for me as governor," Christie said at a news conference in Trenton, N.J.

"I had to balance the benefit that will go to citizens in pain versus some potential risks to the folks that we're authorizing as dispensaries and to state employees," he said, referring to the possible risk of federal prosecution faced by dispensaries.

In the end, Christie concluded that dispensaries operating within state law were unlikely to encounter problems with federal authorities.

"It's a risk worth taking in order to alleviate the pain that people are suffering here in the state," he said.

Marijuana, derived from the cannabis plant, can help suppress pain and nausea in some patients, among other reported therapeutic benefits.

The law was signed by Christie's predecessor, Jon Corzine, shortly before leaving office in January 2010. After Christie became governor, he delayed the law's implementation, saying it needed amending.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Peter Bohan and Cynthia Johnston)

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