So now there's a lawsuit. Maybe that's what it will take to get the state to stop dragging its feet on the medical-marijuana program.

Come to think of it, maybe that's exactly the cover Gov. Chris Christie is looking for - a judge ordering him to get the medical-marijuana program under way.

Clearly, Christie, the king of political cover, would rather incur the wrath of medical-marijuana proponents than the wrath of conservative Republican voters who might have something to say about who becomes vice president or president someday.

New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which set up the strictest medical-marijuana program in the nation, was signed by former Gov. Jon S. Corzine more than two years ago. But not one of the six so-called alternative treatment centers allowed under the law has opened. Nor has the state completed the required registry of physicians who can prescribe the drug, or the registries of approved patients and caregivers.

This week, Richard Caporusso, of Medford, and his doctor, Jeffrey Pollack, a Mays Landing physician, filed a lawsuit claiming the Christie administration has sabotaged the program and caused undue suffering by failing to get it under way.

Christie made it clear from the start that he was not a proponent of medical-marijuana and said he would not have signed the law. Then he appointed a retired state trooper to head the program - a position many thought should have gone to a health professional.

Meanwhile, everyone waits. And patients who have one of the specific conditions for which marijuana can be prescribed under the law continue to suffer.

Last month, the head of one of the six approved alternative treatment centers sent an angry letter to Christie complaining that the state is intentionally delaying the program. Joe Stevens, the head of Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, said the state has repeatedly broken promises about when his site can open.

Another such group, the Compassionate Care Foundation, is also awaiting approvals to begin work at a site in Egg Harbor Township.

We understand Christie's desire that New Jersey's program not be like the loosely regulated programs in some other states. But New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act already assures the state's program will be tightly controlled.

At this point, it is difficult to believe that the delays are legitimate. They certainly are unconscionable. Here's hoping a judge tells the Christie administration exactly that. And soon.