New Jersey Gets Ready For Legal Medical Marijuana

In January, the state Legislature approved a measure to make New Jersey the 14th state in the country to legalize the use of medical marijuana. On Wednesday, Oct. 6, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services released the program’s much-anticipated draft rules.

Medical marijuana, a controversial topic across the country, has been said to relieve pain, nausea, and other debilitating symptoms for patients dealing with cancer, HIV/AIDs, glaucoma and various other diseases and disorders. One New Jersey resident living with multiple sclerosis, who asked to remain anonymous, was willing to speak about his experiences with the drug.

“I have lesions on the right side of my brain that creates a burning on the left side of my body,” he explained. “After just a few tokes from a joint the burning feeling was completely masked and went away.”

But as a father, the man is sensitive to the kind of issues bringing medicinal marijuana to his home state can lead to.

“I see both sides (of the issue),” he said. “I smoke just enough to relieve pain, I’m not looking to get high. I don’t want this to be a free-for-all. I don’t want somebody impressionable, like a kid, to see their mom or dad smoke and think it’s OK.”

Obviously, the state shared some of the same concerns. Compared to the other 13 states to legalize medical marijuana along with the District of Columbia, New Jersey’s provisions will be among the most stringent in the country.

For one, the language used in the draft rules offer little room for interpretation.

For instance, only patients suffering from a select number of conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and inflammatory bowel disease are eligible for treatment. Beyond that, patients suffering from conditions determined as “terminal” (given 12 months or less to live by their physician) are eligible as are those suffering from other diseases such as HIV and glaucoma on a case to case basis.

In terms of patients’ physicians, the rules require the physician to have “a bona fide physician-patient relationship” with those they recommend for the program — terminology that is unique to New Jersey. This means that the physician will have had to either treat the patient for a full year, treat the patient no less than four times for their particular condition, or take the patient under care after a thorough and comprehensive review of their physical state and medical history. Even after those restrictions, the recommendation for the state’s marijuana program is only applicable after more traditional treatments are deemed unsuccessful.

The state also maximizes the amount of marijuana a patient may possess. Under draft rules, patients can possess no more than a 30 day supply of usable marijuana — an allotment that can be no more than 2 ounces. New Jersey is also the only state (although the District of Columbia has a similar policy) that does not allow a patient to own or cultivate any number of marijuana plants. All state medical marijuana will be grown by the state and distributed by selected dispensaries that have yet to be determined.

“An entity that applies to be an Alternative Treatment Center under the new rules has to obtain approval from the municipality where they are going to be located,” explained Donna Leusner, director of communications for NJDHSS. “The treatment center has to be zoned appropriately and the Alternative Treatment Center also has to have an advisory board that includes representation from the community.”

To that extent, the locations of the six non-profit state ATCs (two for cultivation and four for distribution) have yet to be determined other than that they will be strategically situated in the north, central, and southern portions of the state.

This summer, Gov. Chris Christie offered Rutgers University the opportunity to cultivate all of the program’s marijuana plants — an offer that Rutgers infamously declined in July, in part, to avoid possibly losing federal funding.

“Rutgers has numerous interactions with the federal government and the university routinely is required to make certifications that it is in compliance with federal law,” a press statement. “In federal fiscal year 2009 alone, the university received more than $290 million in federal grants and contracts for research and an additional $262 million in grants, loans and work study funding for Rutgers students. We cannot put those programs in jeopardy.”

Christie and the NJDHSS will look for alternatives in what has been described as “a competitive process”. As early as Oct. 13, an informational session will be held in Trenton’s War Memorial for those interested in operating an ATC. After which, a public hearing will be scheduled with registration for the program to begin as early as next month and formal distribution earmarked for next July. Though still along ways away, relief may be in sight for many New Jersey residents.

– Article from The Leader.