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  1. chillinwill
    State lawmakers in New Jersey will likely pass a bill to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, allowing HIV-infected patients to use the drug to relieve pain.

    The latest version of the bill (S119) would also allow individuals with cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and “any other medical condition” approved by the state Health Department to be eligible to receive medical marijuana.

    If the legislation passes, New Jersey will become the 14th state in the country to legalize medical marijuana.

    Current Democratic Governor Jon Corzine has committed to signing the medical marijuana bill if it reaches his desk, but the Senate and the Assembly have yet to reach a final compromise about certain aspects of the legislation.

    Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a sponsor of the bill, said the two branches do agree on “95 percent” of the bill’s details. S119 will be reintroduced to the new Legislature if it does not reach Corzine’s desk before he leaves office in January.

    During a televised debate on October 1, Republican Governor-elect Chris Christie, who takes office on January 19, pledged he would sign the pending bill only if its “safeguards” were strengthened.

    “We don’t want people who have a headache to be able to go and get marijuana,” Christie said. “We want to make sure we don’t turn into California.”

    California’s laws have been widely criticized for not setting strict limits on access to the drug. Patients and their caregivers in California may possess and grow marijuana.

    New Jersey’s proposed law sets stricter limits. The legislation requires that patients pick up the drug, and patients are limited to one ounce of marijuana a month.

    In California, patients are allowed to possess no more than eight ounces at a time.

    For more information, please read the news article on NJ.com. For coverage of the televised debate, please visit The New York Times Web site.

    By Nora Proops
    January 6, 2010
    The AIDS Beacon


  1. chillinwill
    New Jersey on Verge of Becoming 14th State to Allow Access to Medical Marijuana

    State Senate and Assembly Set for Final Votes on Monday, Jan. 11th

    TRENTON, NJ – The New Jersey legislature is on the verge of passing the state’s first medical marijuana bill, making New Jersey the 14th state to allow access to medical marijuana for qualified patients. The New Jersey State Senate and Assembly will take final legislative votes Monday on the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (A804/S119) to reconcile differing versions of the bill passed by the two chambers.

    On January 7th, the Assembly approved amendments to the legislation that would make New Jersey’s medical marijuana law the most restrictive in the country. The Senate passed its version of the bill on February 23rd with bipartisan support (Senators Bill Baroni, Kip Bateman, Sean Kean, Robert Singer and Joseph Pennacchio voted for the bill). Polling has shown between 82 percent and 86 percent support for medical marijuana in New Jersey, and Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

    Advocates and supporters of the legislation are gearing up for final passage. Patients, elected officials and advocates will be holding a pre-vote press conference at 11 AM in the Statehouse Annex, Committee Room 8, 3rd Floor.

    “This has been a long struggle,” said Meagan Johnson, policy coordinator of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, who has worked on the bill since 2006. “It has been heartbreaking to see the patients who need this medication struggling and in pain waiting for the legislature to offer relief. For the sake of these patients and their families, we need final approval of this bill.”

    The measure will allow patients suffering from certain debilitating and life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis, to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. Medical marijuana has proven effective for relief from nausea, muscle spasms, chronic pain, loss of appetite and wasting syndrome. The bill requires patients to register with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Service. Upon approval, patients will receive registration cards indicating that they are allowed to legally possess and use medical marijuana.

    Senate Bill 119 is sponsored by Senators Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union), Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), Sandra B. Cunningham (D-Hudson), Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), Brian P. Stack (D-Hudson), Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Salem, Cumberland, Gloucester), Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), and Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex). Assembly Bill 804 is sponsored by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris), Thomas P. Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic), Vincent Prieto (D-Bergen, Hudson), Gordon M. Johnson (D-Bergen), Assemblywomen Joan M. Voss (D-Bergen), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), Connie Wagner (D-Bergen), Shelia Y. Oliver (D-Essex, Passaic), Cleopatra G. Tucker (D-Essex), Mila M. Jasey (D-Essex), and Linda Stender (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union).

    For seriously ill patients, the long wait for final passage has been agonizing. For almost three years, Diane Riportella, once a marathon runner, has been coping with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, an incurable neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She tried every legally prescribed medicine her doctors suggested while searching for relief from her symptoms, but has found that medical marijuana best provides a reprieve in what she calls a living nightmare.

    “My breathing capacity has diminished to 27% and I have recently been put on hospice. I have lost function of my arms and legs, stripping me of my independence and forcing me to now rely on others to literally carry me and help me carry out normal everyday functions like going the bathroom, bathing, getting dressed, and eating,” said Riportella. “Time to wait for elected officials to ‘do the right thing’ and allow me safe access to my medicine is unfortunately a luxury I don’t have, which is why I urge the legislature to pass the Compassionate Use Act on Monday.”

    The legislation is supported by the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, the New Jersey State Nurses Association; the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians; the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization; the New Jersey League for Nursing; the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Southern NJ and Northern NJ chapters; and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

    Meagan Johnson
    January 8, 2010
    Drug Policy
  2. chillinwill
    NJ Legislature approves medical marijuana bill

    The Legislature on Monday approved a bill that would make the state the 14th to allow chronically ill patients access to marijuana for medical reasons.

    Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine supports the legislation and could sign it before leaving office next week, making it law.

    The bill allows patients with ailments such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis to buy up to 2 ounces of marijuana a month at state-monitored dispensaries.

    Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Princeton Democrat, was a co-sponsor of the bill and pushed for it for years. He said medical marijuana can alleviate suffering and there's no evidence it increases overall drug use.

    "I don't think we should make criminals out of our very sick and terminally ill," he said.

    Incoming Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said he supported the concept of the bill but remained concerned that a loophole could lead to abuses.

    A compromise bill was worked out after some other lawmakers expressed similar concerns. For example, a provision allowing patients to grow marijuana was removed.

    Driving while high would continue to be against the law.

    The other states that permit medical use of marijuana are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

    New Jersey's legislation authorizes the Department of Health to issue to patients with "debilitating medical conditions" registry ID cards that allow them to use marijuana. Patients with specified diseases such as cancer and glaucoma must also demonstrate severe or chronic pain, nausea, seizures, muscle spasms or wasting syndrome to qualify.

    Patients with registry cards would be immune from arrest or prosecution for the medical use of marijuana.

    Gusciora said the legislation, titled the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, would be the nation's strictest such law.

    Lawmakers said they wanted to make sure New Jersey didn't duplicate California's liberal marijuana laws, which they said border on decriminalization of the drug.

    "We have learned from the mistakes of other states," Senate co-sponsor Nick Scutari, a Democrat from Linden, said after the vote.

    The Senate vote was 25-13; the Senate previously approved a less restrictive version. The earlier Assembly vote was 48-14.

    Advocates and patients, who had waited for hours for the final vote, cheered the outcome.

    Nancy Fedder, a 62-year-old multiple sclerosis sufferer who lives in Hillsborough, gets around in a scooter and said she has used marijuana for years to reduce pain.

    "I'm in heaven," she said after the Senate vote. "It means I am no longer a criminal in the state of New Jersey."

    Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, an organization that says it's dedicated to making the state a leader in drug policy reform, thanked lawmakers for voting their consciences.

    "We are absolutely thrilled," she said. "This really was a triumph of compassion."

    January 11, 2010
  3. Terrapinzflyer
    Corzine signs law to legalize medical marijuana

    With New Jersey's endorsement of medical marijuana, there may be no stopping the rehabilitation of cannabis from illegal drug to legitimate therapy.

    Late yesterday, Gov. Corzine signed a law making New Jersey the fourteenth state to legalize medical pot. Four more states and the District of Columbia are expected to follow suit by year's end.

    Many things are driving this sea change. The federal government last year announced that it would no longer prosecute medical marijuana smokers in states where it is legal, while the National Institutes of Health has begun funding research on medicinal use in a reversal of a long-standing policy.

    Gallup Polls show a solid majority of Americans sympathetic to therapeutic marijuana use.

    And the usually conservative American Medical Association, along with the Philadelphia-based American College of Physicians, has joined other medical groups in calling for research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines.

    Lawyer Keith Stroup, who founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in 1970, rejoiced: "We've had more political progress and public support in the past three years than in the previous 30. We've largely won the hearts and minds of Americans."

    Paul Cohen, a physician and lawyer who teaches public health law at Georgetown University, said, "I think we're pretty close to the tipping point."

    California's famously liberal medical marijuana law allows the use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana by anyone who possess a "written or oral recommendation" from their physician that he or she "would benefit from medical marijuana."

    In contrast, New Jersey's version requires patient identification cards and state-monitored dispensaries - easing fears that medical use will fuel illegal sales and teenage substance abuse.

    "That's the exciting thing about New Jersey," Cohen said. "Maybe people's minds will be clearer about the debate."

    Pennsylvania is not expected to pass a similar law anytime soon, although Rep. Mark B. Cohen (D., Phila.) last year introduced a bill in the House.

    Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat from Princeton who sponsored the New Jersey legislation, thinks his bill strikes the right balance between compassion and caution.

    "I'm sure college campuses would prefer the California model," he said. "But we made New Jersey's law illness-specific. And the prescription has to be from an actual physician."

    New Jersey's law allows marijuana prescriptions for cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and other diseases in which patients suffer "severe chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasms."

    Cannabis preparations have been used to relieve nausea and pain since ancient times. But over the last 15 years, research on the body's cannabinoid receptors has begun to decipher the chemistry and biology of these good effects. More recently, clinical trials have shown that these benefits outweigh the concerns about addiction, heart and respiratory diseases, cancers, and psychoses - at least, with short-term use.

    Many questions, however, remain to be answered, experts say. One of the biggest is whether smoked medical marijuana could be replaced by a pharmaceutical version.

    Marinol, a synthetic cannabinoid pill, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating AIDS-related wasting and chemotherapy-related nausea. But many patients say choking down a slow-acting pill simply doesn't provide the convenient and immediate relief of inhaling pot.

    A new drug, Sativex, made by GW Pharmaceuticals, may renew the question. A cannabinoid-based oral spray, Sativex is approved in Canada for treating pain in multiple sclerosis and advanced cancer. The company is now completing the clinical testing needed for approval in Europe and the United States.

    "If I were an advocate of medical marijuana, and if Sativex is approved, I would then try to set up a study to show smoked marijuana is better," said Paul Cohen - who, at 75, said he has never tried pot.

    Last year, Cohen wrote a law review article criticizing both the government's stubborn criminalization of all marijuana use and individual states' defiant efforts to legitimize medical use.

    "Instead," Cohen wrote, "the FDA should . . . evaluate medical marijuana with the same methodology, standards, and diligence that the agency would apply to any other investigational drug."

    Just one problem: No pharmaceutical company or advocacy group has stepped up to do the rigorous and costly human testing that would give the FDA data to evaluate.

    And no one is likely to. Medical marijuana is winning the war of public sentiment, never mind the war on drugs.

    Stroup, 66, attributes this to generational changes.

    "My generation believed in 'Reefer Madness,' " he said, referring to the 1937 film in which high school marijuana use led to addiction, murder, suicide, and insanity. "Over the last 22 years, half of high school graduates have experimented with pot. The majority don't smoke when they get married and have kids, but they have smoked, and they know it didn't turn them into heroin addicts."

    By Marie McCullough
    Inquirer Staff Writer
    Posted on Tue, Jan. 19, 2010

  4. chillinwill
    New Jersey prepares to implement toughest medical marijuana law in U.S.

    One of the last things Gov. Jon S. Corzine did before he left office this month was sign legislation Monday decriminalizing two ounces of marijuana per month for some medical patients.

    But it will be at least six months, if not longer, before New Jersey residents can use the drug. And even then, a number of state residents will likely be left behind.

    For Diane Riportella, not much changes, for now.

    The bill sets up alternative treatment centers and establishes a list of medical conditions that will allow people to register to legally smoke marijuana.

    She has advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a terminal disease better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is covered by the law. The disease has withered the muscles in her wrists and ankles, leaving them to dangle painfully.

    The law will allow a person to buy two ounces of marijuana from state-licensed dispensaries. The first six dispensaries — two each in the state’s northern, central and southern regions — must be nonprofits, but subsequent ones don’t have to be.

    Riportella, 53, said she smokes as many as a half-dozen marijuana cigarettes per day to combat the pain and anxiety she said grows worse at night. She can use three ounces in a month.

    The Egg Harbor Township woman has used marijuana for years. Asked how she acquires the currently illegal substance, she joked, “If I tell you, I have to kill you.”

    Until the law takes effect, she said she will continue to get marijuana from friends who share what they have, not wanting to see her suffer. Any shortfall would likely be filled the same way.

    “I never felt like a criminal, but for those people who aren’t as aggressive as I am, those people are so afraid of getting caught,” she said. “I feel really bad for these people. I myself have brought (joints) to other ALS patients and their caregivers if I had something and I know they won’t go out and get it.”

    New Jersey’s law is considered the most restrictive in the nation for three reasons, said Beth Schroeder, aide to state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, who sponsored the bill:

    * New Jersey is the only state of 14 with medicinal marijuana laws that bans patients from growing it in their own homes.
    * Patients are restricted to two ounces of usable marijuana per month. This is less than other states, in part because of the ban on growing marijuana, and the 30-day limit.
    * The drug is for people suffering from a “debilitating medical condition,” and that is the most limited. The designation does not include severe or chronic pain, she said, or people with neuropathic pain stemming from birth defects or from burns, amputations or spinal surgery.

    The law allows the state Department of Health and Senior Services to administratively adopt other conditions that can be treated with marijuana.

    But with incoming Gov. Chris Christie appointing a new DHSS commissioner, it is unclear how the agency will react. Christie is a socially conservative Republican and former U.S. Attorney who did not oppose medicinal marijuana on the campaign trail, instead calling for additional restrictions.

    For Jack O’Brien, a 55-year-old from Millville, not much will change, even after the law takes effect.

    “Well, you know what I will be doing is what I done before: Hurry up and wait,” said O’Brien, who has used marijuana for years to treat chronic pain. “I’m just going to wait until it’s put into place and I’ll access me a card and access my medicine.”

    But the way the law is written, he will be excluded.

    “I was born without fingers and toes. No reason why, just born that way,” he said. “But my condition over the years has produced neuropathic pain, from nerve endings not fully formed.”

    Marijuana effectively relieves his pain, but ever since he publicly said he uses it, O’Brien said he has been under surveillance.

    He said he was optimistic he would eventually be covered because marijuana effectively relieved his pain with minimal side effects. “I have not found a pain medication that did that, except for pain medications that wouldn’t let me get off the couch or a pill that would not let me sit here and communicate with you like I am now.”

    New Jersey lawmakers took steps to restrict access to marijuana after testimony raised concerns about the experience in California. After voters there approved a medical marijuana measure in 1996, relatively lenient standards for treatment meant the drug has been essentially decriminalized in parts of the state.

    Opponents, however, do not think the New Jersey law’s restrictions are adequate. Joyce Nalepka, president of DrugFree Kids: America's Challenge, said her organization gave Corzine its first annual skunk award for bad policy. She said, “If California is any example of what is going to happen, it’s going to be pretty messy.”

    Robert Goldberg, director of medical oncology at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point, said he would consider prescribing the drug when other treatments fall short.

    Some of his patients used marijuana in the 1980s to relieve symptoms associated with the treatment of cancer. But with improvements in medicine, he could not think of any current patients to whom he would suggest it.

    He questioned the variability of different crops and its suitability for people with difficulties inhaling.

    Ultimately, he said his loyalty was to his patients. “I jokingly tell patients, ‘If blue mud helps, well, here’s a bucket and shovel.’”

    Derek Harper
    January 23, 2010
    Press of Altantic City
  5. chillinwill
    New Jersey's new medical marijuana law in jeopardy

    Future of medical marijuana law rests with Gov. Christie

    The fate of the state’s weeks-old medical marijuana law is now in the hands of new Gov. Chris Christie, who has said for the past year that he a problem with the legislation.

    Although the legislation passed both houses in the state legislature and was signed by former Gov. Jon Corzine earlier this month, the law currently has no funding and will need several million dollars to get off the ground. Funding for the law rests with Christie, who has promised to slash state spending and address New Jersey’s $8 to $10 billion structural deficit.

    Given the current financial constraints, there is some doubt that Christie will put money behind this law, particularly because the governor doesn’t like the language of it. On the campaign trail last year, Christie said he supports the concept of medical marijuana use, but didn’t like either of the pot bills that were moving through Trenton.

    Supporters believe Christie will provide funding for the law, but may require that some amendments be added to make it less open to abuse.

    Co-sponsored by local resident

    New Jersey’s medical marijuana law was co-sponsored by Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32 Dist.), a Secaucus resident who represents several local towns. It is the fourteenth law of its kind in the country.

    “You have other controlled substances that are prescribed, regulated, and still given to patients who need them,” said Prieto last week. “You have codeine, you have morphine. These drugs are used to alleviate some symptoms. If we have another drug that can alleviate suffering, we should put it to good use.”

    Under the proposed New Jersey law, there will be six certified pot dispensaries scattered throughout the state.

    The dispensaries, which will come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, will be certified to grow and distribute marijuana for people with a prescription for the drug. There will be two dispensaries in southern New Jersey, two in the central region, and two in the northern part of the stare, according to Prieto.

    These pot centers will be run as nonprofits. Should the program be expanded and new dispensaries approved, future centers won’t have to be nonprofits.

    Doctors will have to be certified to prescribe marijuana to their patients – and only a very limited number of patients will be eligible.

    Limited few

    While most states with medical marijuana laws on the books allow use for chronic pain, the New Jersey limits its use for that purpose. Here, only patients suffering from a short list of specific diseases can be prescribed pot for medicinal use. Patients with cancer, glaucoma, advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), seizure disorders, and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) are among those who can be prescribed medicinal pot. But people with third-degree burns or chronic pain from injuries or surgery are out of luck.

    “Only people with chronic diseases will be able to get a prescription,” Prieto said, “and patients won’t be allowed to grow it themselves. They’ll have to get it from the dispensaries...and patients will have to consume it at home.”

    Under the law, people will be allowed up to two ounces of the drug per month – an amount far less than what’s allowed under other similar laws elsewhere around the country.

    Caregivers tending to people too sick to travel to a dispensary are allowed to pick up prescriptions for patients, but will require state approval to do so and will have to clear a background check.

    Avoiding California’s problems

    California’s medical marijuana law, which was approved by voters in 1996, is often regarded as a lax piece of legislation that was too open to abuse. For example, in Los Angeles, which has its own ordinance, there are an estimated 800 to 1,000 unregulated dispensaries, many in residential neighborhoods. Even the regulated dispensaries have little regulation about who picks up the drug. Last week, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance capping the number of pot dispensaries at 70. Dispensaries must be at least 1,000 feet from such places as schools, parks, and playgrounds.

    “There have been a lot of downsides to marijuana laws in California,” said Joseph Olszewski, chief of staff for Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone (D-31st Dist.), another co-sponsor of the bill. Olszewski worked closely with Chiappone to help craft the Assembly’s version of the marijuana bill. “There’s very little regulation there, which is one of the reasons they’ve had problems.”

    Changes ahead

    New Jersey’s medical marijuana law is already considered one of the toughest in the nation, so it’s unclear what further restrictions Gov. Christie, who thinks it’s too lenient, might impose.

    “Our law differs very much from the California law,” Prieto said. “Since we’re the fourteenth state [to legalize medical marijuana use], we actually looked at a lot of other states to see what problems they had… This is a good piece of legislation.”

    But Olszewski speculated that “A lot of amendments will be added. You want to close the loopholes.” He said Assemblyman Chiappone will introduce an amendment that calls for the creation of a 24-hour database of people who have legal prescriptions for marijuana.

    “This database will be accessible to anybody in law enforcement,” added Olszewski, who has a background in law enforcement. “And people [with prescriptions] will have to waive their [medical privacy] rights” to be included. But the database would not include patients’ specific medical diagnoses.

    Other amendments will likely increase penalties for those who violate the law, Olszewski added.

    If funded, the law is scheduled to go into effect in June, but that could be postponed.

    by E. Assata Wright
    January 30, 2010
    Hudson Reporter
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