Medical marijuana pondered in New Jersey

By chillinwill · Dec 14, 2008 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    Three years after it was introduced in the Legislature, the proposal to legalize marijuana for medical use in New Jersey gets its first test in a Senate committee tomorrow in what is expected to be a contentious process that will spill into an election year.

    New Jersey would become the 14th state to create a sanctioned medical marijuana program, although the upcoming vote in the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee is just the first step. The prime Senate sponsor of the bill (A804/S119) said he feels confident.

    "This is groundbreaking stuff, and I'm excited about the prospect of taking the next step," Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) said.

    The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act would require the state Department of Health and Senior Services to evaluate requests from physicians who recommend marijuana to their patients to help alleviate a "debilitating medical condition," defined as cancer, glaucoma, HIV and AIDS, or chronic illnesses that cause "wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, seizures and severe and persistent muscle spasms."

    Patients the health department deems worthy would receive a state identification card verifying their enrollment. Patients, and their primary caretakers who do not have a history of drug convictions, "shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution or penalty" provided they possess the card and no more than six marijuana plants and 1 ounce of "usable marijuana."

    Opponents refuse to concede medical marijuana has wide support anywhere -- in the Legislature or among the public. They intend to argue lawmakers ought to be concerned from a consumer standpoint.

    "Legislators, out of the goodness of their hearts, listen to these people," said David Evans, an attorney and executive director of the Drug Free Schools Coalition, a national group. "But many people don't look beyond the compassion argument."

    The bill up for a vote tomorrow has been changed to reflect concerns about how patients would legally obtain the drug, which would remain an illegal substance in all other circumstances.

    The bill allows the state health department to license "medical marijuana alternative treatment centers," a new entity that would cultivate and deliver the drug to participating patients, according to the amendment.

    Otherwise, patients might choose to grow their own or "go to the black market," said Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey, one of the major proponents of the bill. These licensed growing centers have worked in Oregon, she said.

    Scotti, whose organization also was a major supporter of needle exchange legislation that passed after 13 years of lobbying, said she expects this bill to be a much easier sell.

    "Legislators understand anyone can be in this position and have one of these diseases," Scotti said. At public hearings held in June 2006 and May 2008 "regular people testified. ... They said 'I do this because this is the only way they will have a quality of life.'"

    Gerry and Don McGrath of Robbinsville will testify, as they have before, about how their son, Sean, regained his appetite and reduced his suffering before he died from cancer four years ago.

    "I strongly believe that once members of the Senate Health Committee listen objectively to stories like ours on Monday, they will vote yes on the bill, bringing it closer to becoming law and help those currently suffering in New Jersey," Don McGrath said.

    Evans said some people may attest to marijuana's nausea- and pain-curbing abilities, but this is no substitute for Food and Drug Administration approval. "They may feel better, but you have to make sure it is safe. There are no proper studies about dose, how many times do you take it," Evans said. "Once this bill is approved, you can smoke your head off all day long."

    The FDA has approved Marinol, a pill made from a synthetic version of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana found to relieve nausea and vomiting. "This is approved for medical treatment, so what's the problem?" John Tomicki, executive director of the League of American Families. "I doubt whether this bill will ever see daylight."

    The movement to expand medical marijuana laws has been slow but steady, activists say.

    Michigan voters recently approved a ballot initiative in November permitting a medical marijuana program, becoming the 13th state to legalize the practice.

    Medical marijuana programs are also legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

    Sunday, December 14, 2008
    Star-Ledger Staff

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  1. robin_himself
    New Jersey To Consider Legalizing Med Marijuana

    New Jersey -- A state Senate committee will discuss legislation today that would make New Jersey the 14th state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. If Senate Bill 119 eventually is signed into law, patients with debilitating illnesses, including cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, would have access to marijuana to relieve their pain if prescribed by a doctor.

    The bill is sponsored by state Sens. Nicholas P. Scutari, D-Union, Somerset, Middlesex, and Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic.

    The legalization of marijuana - considered the single most abused illicit drug in the United States by the National Institute on Drug Abuse - for medicinal purposes already has happened in 13 other states, most recently Michigan.

    Jim Miller, president of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, has fought tirelessly for marijuana legalization. His wife, Cheryl, lived with multiple sclerosis, a potentially debilitating disease that blocks the brain from communicating with other parts of the body, for 32 years before dying in 2003 at age 57.

    "I got to see on a regular basis what life was like when she didn't take (medical marijuana)," Miller said. "And I saw the brief periods of relief when she did."

    Marijuana, or cannabis, has been used in medicine since the 19th century. A study by the National Institute of Medicine in 1999 concluded that "the accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation."

    But the Food and Drug Administration believes otherwise. Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the most restrictive class of drug. The FDA does not approve of the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

    Miller said he constantly gets calls from people in the kind of pain his late wife experienced, and he tries to provide the drug for them whenever he can.

    "I risk arrest to help people whenever I can," Miller said. "It's a sad state of affairs when I can take care of these people and hospice can't."
    The concern for many is that even with many restrictions to access, others could get a hold of marijuana and use it - and abuse it - for recreational purposes. It's a behavior already observed in the abuse of alcohol and certain prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, both of which are legalized.

    Despite the potential for harm, anti-drug groups are hoping decisions will be made following sound medical advice.
    "We believe that this is a medical issue and that it should be handled by medical professionals," said Angelo Valente, the executive director of Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

    The hearing takes place in Committee Room 11 on the fourth floor of the Statehouse Annex.

    Complete Title: New Jersey Senate Committee To Consider Legalizing Medical Marijuana
    Source: Press of Atlantic City, The (NJ)
    Author: Ben Leach, Staff Writer
    Published: Monday, December 15, 2008
    Copyright: 2008 South Jersey Publishing Co.
    Contact: [email protected]

    robin_himself added 575 Minutes and 29 Seconds later...

    Trenton, NJ -- New Jersey took a step towards becoming the next state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for medicinal use Monday, when the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens committee approved the Compassionate Use Medicinal Marijuana Act. The measure moves on to a full vote in the Senate.

    Elise Segal, who earlier testified in support, felt an emotional reaction after the vote.

    “It really brings me to tears, not just for me as a someone suffering from multiple sclerosis, but as a registered nurse and for all the people that I’ve treated," she said.

    The bill would set up a registry program with the Department of Health and Senior Services, for people with debilitating medical conditions.
    These would include cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, or other diseases that cause wasting, chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms.

    The department would issue an identity card and allow these people to possess up to six marijuana plants and an ounce of usable marijuana.
    But as a result, the person would not be subject to arrest or penalty for the medicinal use.

    For complete coverage, see Tuesday's editions of The Press of Atlantic City.
    Source: Press of Atlantic City, The (NJ)
    Published: Monday, December 15, 2008
    Copyright: 2008 South Jersey Publishing Co.
    Contact: [email protected]
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