Moved by Patients, NJ Committee Clears Medical Marijuana

New Jersey – Moved by pleas from chronically ill patients, a state Senate committee approved legislation yesterday that would regulate the sale and use of medical marijuana for people who can show they need the drug to ease their suffering.

Over the objections of family rights groups and attorneys who warned the bill sends a conflicting message to youth about illegal drug use, the majority of members from the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee said they felt compelled to approve the bill.

Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Mercer) said he was swayed by the testimony of Charles Kwiatkowski, a 37-year-old Hazlet resident who said the pain and muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis prevents him from playing with his children, ages 3, 8 and 9.

“There is too much pain, too much hurt, and too much suffering, and we can do something about it,” Baroni said.

Kwiatkowski called marijuana “an illegal miracle” that enables him to “walk better, see better, go fishing with my kids. … It’s not right there are 13 states I could live in, in less pain.”

The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act would benefit patients suffering from a debilitating disease, 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 would need a written recommendation from their doctor, and the ultimate signoff from the state Department of Health and Senior Services, which would issue identification cards stating their participation. These patients would be free from criminal prosecution by the state to possess up to six plants and one ounce of usable marijuana, according to the bill.

The Health Department would also license new entities called “compassion centers” that would grow and distribute marijuana plants.

“Why can’t we have people just purchase the drug through a pharmacy, like we do with every other drug? There are a lot of checks and balances in the system we have now,” asked Sen. Diane Allen (R- Burlington), who ultimately abstained from the vote.

Pharmacies could become licensed compassion centers, but are unlikely to do so because prescribing or carrying the drug violates federal law, Roseanne Scotti, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey, a major proponent of the bill.

“Thirteen other states have worked it out through the regulatory process,” Scotti said. “We can do it here in New Jersey.” The other states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Joyce Nalepka, president of the national organization Drug Free Kids: America’s Challenge, urged the committee to consider the ef fects legalizing medical marijuana would have on children and young adults.

From 1999 to 2008, the National Household Surveys on Drug Use by the National Institutes of Health found higher than average use of the drug in the states that legalized medical marijuana, Nalepka said.

“Can it be that declaring — by popular legislative opinion — a dangerous drug to be medicine increases use by making it more ac ceptable?” she asked the commit tee.

Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), a committee member and a bill sponsor, disagreed that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes would elevate awareness of the drug among youngsters. “I think our youth are pretty much aware of marijuana today. I think we are kidding ourselves if we don’t think that.”

With the bill (S119) passed by a 6-1 vote with two abstentions, it awaits a full vote in the 40-member Senate for a vote when Senate President Richard Codey (D- Essex) decides to post it.

Codey said he would do it soon — perhaps the next Senate voting session in January. “I will post it but I will not support it,” Codey said, repeating a position he has stated previously.

– Article from the The Star-Ledger.