Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Septemberfest Surprise

Despite misgivings about even attending this years Hamilton Twp. Septemberfest (9-13), the day was sunny and The CMMNJ table was assigned it's best spot ever. We collected a couple of hundred signatures on our medical marijuana petition and sold wristbands and tee shirts while handing out information and educating those who stopped at the table. Most of the people we talked to did not know much about the status of the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana bill. That should tell us something. As much as we would like to think our hard work has ensured that most people are aware that there is a medical marijuana bill poised to pass into law in New Jersey, it's just not so. Some people thought that we have already passed medical marijuana law, some thought that something like that could never be done in NJ, and many were still simply not aware that such a bill even exists. We cannot let up in our educational efforts until the governor's pen actually makes contact with the bill.

The day was already a success when it took a turn for the better. Politicians frequent these events so when Ken said "is that Chris Christie who just walked by" I figured it may well be him. I picked up a postcard picturing my late wife Cheryl as she sat in her wheelchair with a sign leaned against it stating "I'm a medical marijuana patient, not a criminal!" and headed off to see if it was indeed the New Jersey republican candidate for governor. Oh yeah, it was him. There was a group of about 20 people walking with Mr. Christie as I approached him and introduced myself. I showed him the postcard with my thumb covering the medical marijuana part and told him that Cheryl bravely fought multiple sclerosis for 32 years before she died six years ago. I moved my thumb away and continued on to say that medical marijuana was Cheryl's best medicine for pain and spasticity whether he understood that or not. As I was about to confront him about his previously stated opposition to medical marijuana I noticed that it was NJ state senator Bill Baroni who was accompanying him around the park. Now THERE'S two republicans with completely opposite opinions about medical marijuana.

I told Mr. Christie that he was standing next to one of my political heroes. I explained how, as a member of the Senate Health Committee, Sen. Baroni took his committee vote on medical marijuana very seriously. Seriously enough to state on the floor of the Senate how he had read everything that everybody sent him and listened ALL testimony on the subject before deciding how to vote. Baroni stood with his arms folded in front of him as he smiled and agreed, saying "I did". He did the work. He defined his job description by his actions on the floor that day. (You can go to http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/media/archive_audio2.asp?KEY=SHH&SESSION=2008 and click on "listen" at the 12-15-08 hearing to hear his inspiring words at the 2:38:30 mark.) I told Mr. Christie that I understood that he is a very busy man, but if he trusted Senator Baroni he should at least briefly talk to him about what he learned while investigating the facts about New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana bill. Christie nodded in agreement while being very careful not to utter a single word. Smart move.

So, we will see. Everyone can evolve as information becomes available. I assume that Mr. Christie's stated opinions about medical marijuana have been formed by getting information solely from sources that are against it. Now we will see if talking to someone who has gone to both sides of the issue for information will effect his myopic opinions of the past. I mean, if former congressman Bob Barr can evolve on this issue, anyone can. I chose not to confront Chris Christie because I didn't have to. The door is open for Sen. Baroni and Chris Christie to have the conversation that they should have. If Christie doesn't take the opportunity it will demonstrate that he would rather go with the preconceived opinion that most republicans seem to have. That door swings both ways though. If Sen. Baroni doesn't take this opening to educate Mr. Christie, I will be seriously disappointed, and so will the patients who he gave so much hope to on December 15, 2008.

Monday, September 14, 2009

FDA Approval of Medical Marijuana Impossible and Unnecessary

Critics say they would support medical marijuana if only it obtained Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. This sounds good, but it is really an impossible and unnecessary precondition.

It takes many millions of dollars to get a drug through the current FDA approval process. Pharmaceutical companies spend this kind of money with the expectation that they will be able to patent new drugs and charge exorbitant prices for them. But no one can patent marijuana—it grows wild, and is cultivated, in all 50 states. No company can expect to recoup its expenses after conducting the type of trials of marijuana that the FDA currently considers standard for newly developed drugs. Nor should this be necessary. Marijuana is not a newly developed drug. Marijuana has been used medicinally for thousands of years and was included in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia until the 1940's.

Even if some non-profit medical center or university was inclined to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars to obtain FDA approval, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been obstructing, and continues to obstruct, scientific research in this area. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is currently suing the DEA to allow it to grow its own marijuana to conduct clinical trials. The DEA refuses to allow anyone but itself to legally grow marijuana even for research or compassionate use programs. With very few exceptions, independent clinical trials of marijuana's medical benefits simply cannot get done here in America.

Look at New Jersey. In 1981, the New Jersey legislature unanimously passed into law the “Dangerous Substances Therapeutic Research Act.” This law was designed to protect New Jersey patients who were engaged in clinical trials of marijuana. In 28 years not a single New Jersey resident has been able to take part in a clinical trial of medical marijuana here. The National Academy of Sciences' 1999 Institute of Medicine report, which recommended immediate access to clinical trials of marijuana, called the DEA's death grip on marijuana “a daunting thicket of regulations to be negotiated at the federal level.”

There is only one federal study currently being done--one--and it has been closed to new applicants since 1992. There are fewer than a half dozen patients still involved in this Investigational New Drug (IND) study. Every month, the federal government sends these patients 300 marijuana cigarettes. They have been doing so for over 20 years. In all that time the federal government has never once asked these patients how they are doing. It fell to a private organization, Patients Out of Time, to gather these patients together and study them. Patients Out of Time found that none of the IND patients suffered any adverse effects from marijuana, their conditions were all under control, and marijuana was the only therapeutic agent they were using. The federal government simply does not want to know how effective marijuana is—reality would clash too greatly with its preconceived notions that marijuana has no recognized medical uses and is unsafe for use even under medical supervision.

It was a political decision to ban marijuana, not a medical or scientific one. Previous scientific studies have been routinely ignored. The Schafer Commission studied the issue for two years. In 1972, they reported, “Marijuana has important therapeutic qualities which should be aggressively explored.” Nothing came of this.

Also in 1972, some groups petitioned the federal government to reschedule marijuana to make it available for doctors to prescribe. The government refused to hold hearings for 14 years. Finally in 1986, after three court orders, hearings were held which lasted two years. The DEA testified why marijuana should remain unavailable. Doctors, nurses, patients and researchers testified that marijuana should be available. The decision was given by the US Department of Justice, DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis L. Young on September 6, 1988. He said:
“The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasoning, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between these sufferers and this substance in light of the evidence in this record...Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”

Marijuana should have been approved nationwide for medical use then and there. Unfortunately, the Administrator of the DEA overturned the judge's decision, acting in an arbitrary, capricious and unreasoning manner.

The whole point of any “compassionate use program” is to allow innovative therapies for seriously ill patients prior to FDA approval. This is why we must pass into law the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.” Patients in New Jersey have a right to the best possible care available, and there is ample evidence of marijuana's safety and efficacy. FDA approval of this program is both impossible and unnecessary.

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA
Executive Director
Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey
844 Spruce St.
Trenton, NJ 08648-4530

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Marijuana is Medicine- CMMNJ documentary on YouTube

Marijuana Is Medicine PT1- New Jersey Documentary

A documentary film directed by Jim Incollingo and produced by The Coalition for Medical Marijuana - New Jersey CMMNJ. Featuring patients and health care providers struggling under marijuana prohibition.

Parts 2 and 3 along with additional CMMNJ video is available at http://www.youtube.com/user/NJmedicalmarijuana

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

CMMNJ September Meeting Minutes

Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey
Monthly Public Meeting Minutes
Tuesday, September 8, 2009; 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

7:15 PM: Meeting called to order. August minutes approved. Discussion:

Ø Very successful rally at the Somerset Co. Court House in support multiple sclerosis (MS) patient John Wilson, who faces 20 years in prison for growing marijuana to treat his disease.

See photos and video of the August 21 court house rally. Wilson was forbidden by the judge to even mention his medical condition during the upcoming trial. Juries have the power to declare Wilson not guilty. CMMNJ will follow this case closely. Very persuasive letter sent to A.G Milgram by Board member Ed Hannaman.

Ø Seton Hall Position Paper and Philadelphia Weekly article support NJ’s Compassionate Use Act (S119).

Ø CMMNJ is scheduled to appear at the following upcoming events. Volunteers are needed at all events:

· Sun., 9/13, 10 AM - 4 PM; Hamilton Septemberfest, Veteran’s Park, Hamilton Twp., NJ;

· Sat., 9/19, High Noon; Boston Freedom Rally, Boston Common, Boston, Mass.;

· Thurs. – Sat., 9/24-26, National NORML Conference, San Francisco, CA.;

· Sun., 10/4 12:30 PM – 4 PM, Lawrence Community Day, Village Park, Lawrence Twp., NJ;

· Sat., 10/10, 10 AM – 5 PM, Ewing Community Fest, The College of New Jersey, Ewing Twp., NJ.

· CMMNJ will look into appearing at the League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City this fall.

Ø The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which was approved by the state senate in February, is due for a vote by the Assembly this fall, after the November elections. Tell your legislators that you want the Senate version of the bill, that is not as restrictive as the Assembly version, to pass into law. See CMMNJ’s recent blog for talking points. CMMNJ will schedule meetings with legislative leaders. Patients are encouraged to attend.

Ø CMMNJ is now a cause on Facebook! See Ken’s birthday wish. See NORML NJ’s new web site.

Ø Treasury report: Current account balances: Checking: $4168.21; PayPal: $191.02. CMMNJ will consider using funds to take out educational ads in various media. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to CMMNJ, a 501(c)(3) organization. All funds received go towards public education about medical marijuana. Donations may be made securely through Paypal or checks made out to “CMMNJ” and sent to corporate headquarters at the address below. Get a free t-shirt for a donation above $15—specify size. Thank you for your support.

9:00 PM: Meeting adjourned.

Scheduled CMMNJ meetings are Oct. 13, Nov. 10, & Dec. 8, 2009. CMMNJ meetings are held on the second Tuesday of the month at the Lawrence Twp. Library from 7:00 PM until 9:00 PM. All are welcome. Snacks are served. The library is at 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrence Twp., Tel. #609.882.9246. (Meeting at the library does not imply their endorsement of our issue.) For more info, contact:

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA
Executive Director, Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc. www.cmmnj.org
844 Spruce St., Trenton, NJ 08648
(609) 394-2137 ohamkrw@aol.com

CMMNJ letter to NJ A.G. on behalf of MS patient facing 20 years in prison for medical marijuana

Edward R. Hannaman, Esq.
7 Bradway Ave.
Ewing, New Jersey 08618

September 3, 2009

Hon. Anne Milgram
Attorney General
P.O. Box 080
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0080

Re: John Wilson

Dear Attorney General Milgram:

I feel compelled to write to you on behalf of John Wilson, but also in the interests of justice, the conservation of State resources and to preserve the clarity of your conscience. As an attorney I believe this prosecution to be not only ill conceived under the circumstances and excessive in its object, but pursued in a manner that will lead to a grave injustice.

Following the death of a friend’s young son from cancer that was staved off solely by the use of marijuana as recommended by his oncologists, I accepted a position as a Board member of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey. In that role, I have seen and spoken with many patients, family members, caregivers and medical professionals who attest to the palliative effects of marijuana on a host of serious illnesses. In many cases it has proven to be the only salvation for patients.

Others with expertise in this area have written to you previously documenting the grave nature of Mr. Wilson’s medical condition and supplying you with considerable evidence that marijuana has been found to be a palliative for it. It is a well -established and undeniable fact that marijuana is a benefit to those with multiple sclerosis. This was confirmed again by a recent independent study conducted by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The facts in this matter are simple. John Wilson lacks medical insurance and suffers from multiple sclerosis, a terrible and incurable illness. Because other medications as well as bee sting therapy had failed him, he turned in desperation to the use of marijuana which he grew himself on his own property. For this act of self-preservation he has been charged with manufacturing and producing marijuana. He is being subjected to a prison sentence of twenty years. Sadly, the failure to properly apply current law or allow our system of justice to work as intended has forced John Wilson to face a far harsher and crueler punishment than anyone in his situation deserves.

Notably, there is no charge of nor is there any evidence that John Wilson supplied or intended to supply marijuana to anyone other than himself. The police did not find any caches of weapons, bundles of money, client lists or the quantities of marijuana expected and necessary if distribution were a motive. His condition and the proven medical efficacy of marijuana for it document the motive for growing was medical use. The very manner in which it was grown speaks to the naiveté of John Wilson. Anyone sophisticated would be expected to have grown the plants indoors or if outside at least camouflaged them or, typically not on one’s own property. Because most of the plants seized lacked buds, he may very well have been growing plants incapable of therapeutic yields.

As you are no doubt aware, there have been cases in this state in which those supplying cocaine and heroin to others have caused death and been subjected to less incarceration than John Wilson is facing. In Mercer County, at least one individual who grew far more plants than were grown here and who had no relevant medical condition was allowed to participate in pre-trial intervention. Mr. Wilson has no criminal record, was not supplying a substance to anyone but himself, did not seek it on the illegal market and, most significantly, harmed no one. As you are well aware, if John Wilson were to have killed another person to protect his own life, he would have a defense. How can it be that growing a plant to save his life is deserving of no less?

The statute under which John Wilson is charged (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-1.1 et seq.) counsels consideration of the seriousness and degree of dangerousness of the offense. It also looks to the harm suffered by the victim and states that it is aimed at aiding in the battle against drug distribution chains and those posing the greatest danger to society. It logically focuses on “the role of the actor in the overall drug distribution network” (1.1c). The entire statutory intent is clearly and understandably designed to deter “the most culpable and dangerous drug offenders” as well as affording special protection to children. NONE of these serious concerns are even remotely applicable to John Wilson.

In defining the “manufacture” that Mr. Wilson is charged with, Section 2 of the statute states; “…except that this term does not include the preparation or compounding of a controlled dangerous substance or controlled dangerous substance analog by an individual for his own use…” (Emphasis added). By the very definition of “manufacture” in the statute, it is wrong to charge John Wilson under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-4 with manufacturing!

Moreover, by its very terms, the statute places his use at issue, thereby making it a material matter required to be submitted to the court. Although mere “planting” is defined as “production”, the situation in John Wilson’s case is demonstrably outside of the clearly articulated legislative intent in enacting this law for society’s protection. Notably, Mr. Wilson would not be subject to the enhanced punishment for the mere number of plants he was growing. To impose the harshest punishment possible, the prosecutor claims that each day a plant grew constituted a separate production offense. In that way the actual plants were multiplied into a sufficient number to constitute a first -degree crime. Would that your prosecutors could demonstrate such creativity in going after those committing securities fraud, political corruption or serious offenses against the public peace.

In this case the prosecution has taken a law designed to punish those actually manufacturing drugs in large quantities for the illegal drug trade, ignored its purpose and tortured its language to imprison for decades a patient treating himself for multiple sclerosis. The prosecution proceeds heedless of the law’s expressed intent and with an inhumane disdain for the affect on a human being suffering an incurable disease. This cannot remotely be characterized as part of a war on drugs. In reality it is nothing less than a reprehensible persecution of a sick person using a medicine.

Justice demands that this case be considered not only on all of its facts but also within the context of the medical marijuana movement. At present, thirteen states in this country, representing over twenty five percent of the population of the United States, have legalized the use of marijuana for a number of conditions, including multiple sclerosis. As evidenced by the Bills introduced in other states, this is an ever-growing movement. On February 23 of this year, New Jersey’s Senate voted to approve S119 (appropriately termed the Compassionate Use Act), which allows patients to use marijuana for a number of conditions, including multiple sclerosis. It is for good reason that it is referred to as the “Compassionate Use” Act. In June, the Assembly Health Committee voted to release the companion Bill, A 804, for a full Assembly vote. Although it made some changes, it maintained the right of patients suffering from multiple sclerosis to use marijuana. You are well aware of these Bills since your own office pronounced the use of medical marijuana “workable”. Governor Corzine has stated openly that he would sign a Bill authorizing the use of medical marijuana.

What is easily most disturbing in light of the manner in which our system of justice is intended to function is that your prosecutor pushed to deny the jury the following facts: that John Wilson’s suffers from multiple sclerosis, that marijuana is recognized as legitimate treatment for that condition and that he was growing the marijuana solely for that purpose. These are all crucial facts, material to his individual use and all spurned by your prosecutor as irrelevant to a jury’s evaluation. Incredibly, the prosecutor characterized as “prejudicial” expert testimony from a physician about the medical benefits of marijuana use by John Wilson. In the absence of the relevant medical facts how is the jury to determine whether John Wilson’s situation and conduct were the focus of the legislature’s intent?

Our system, which is grounded on the presumption of innocence, protects the accused from prejudicial facts being used against him or from the jury misusing facts adverse to the defendant. Fairness demands that material facts be submitted to the jury. The prosecution’s aversion to the facts and characterization of them as prejudicial rests on nothing more than the fear that they undermine the prospects of an easy conviction. Convictions, however, are not the means by which we measure justice. We measure justice by whether there was a truly fair trial. Withholding medical marijuana use is a perversion of the evidence rule shielding the jury from adverse facts about the defendant that could serve to prejudice the jury against him. Thus, the court will instruct a jury exposed to the fact that the defendant committed a prior illegal, that it is not to assume thereby that he has likely done so again. In this case, considering the statutory language, the true prejudice lies in denying the jury access to all the facts, in effect forcing them to render a verdict based on a one-sided presentation. This trial begins with a rejection of a belief that constitutes the very heart of our jury system, a trust in the common citizen to do what is right.

Trial by a jury of ones’ peers is intended in a democratic society to stand as a bulwark against the tyranny of the state, unjust prosecutions and oppressive laws violative of the community’s conscience. Our justice system has evolved as a result of a tumultuous past replete with examples of such threats to freedom. As a result, western democracy extols the fact that the jury can stand up to any sovereign. It was for good reason that the denial of this sacred protection of individual liberty was specifically noted as a grievance against the King in our Declaration of Independence. Thus, our founding fathers recognized and the soldiers of our revolution fought specifically for, the fundamental and inviolate right for every citizen to be afforded the protection of a trial by jury in criminal cases.

We revere the principle that our government is founded upon the consent of the governed and it is reflected in the jury’s power to do justice. No less an authority than Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes observed that it is the province of the jury to keep the administration of the law in accordance with the wishes and feelings of the community. As he stated in the Horning case in 1920: “The jury has the power to bring in a verdict in the teeth of both the law and facts.” Justice Holmes certainly understood and advocated that the jury is ultimately the conscience of the community; not the legislator, not the prosecutor and not even the court. Thus it is a fundamental tenet of our law that a court in a criminal case, despite overwhelming and uncontroverted evidence of guilt, cannot direct a verdict of guilt contrary to a jury’s verdict of acquittal.

Our system allows the jury to decide whether the defendant is justly or unjustly accused. It is to the independence of the jury that we look to prevent the wrongful infliction of punishment through an opprobrious law and to stay the hand of a vengeful prosecutor. Its power stems from its role as the judicial manifestation of the right of a free people to self-determination. It is no less than the embodiment of our principle that ultimate power rests with “we the people.” The jury’s authority is as essential aspect of a government formed to be one that is “of the people.” It is not an overstatement to acknowledge that juries are the most critical element in a judicial system guaranteeing justice for every citizen. In a system where the people are sovereign both the language and application of a statute are subject to the moral scrutiny of the jury acting as the conscience of the community. Denying the jury essential knowledge serves to undermine the crucial role entrusted to it by our democracy.

A fair trial requires that the jury be kept free from improper influence, not that it be kept ignorant of the facts as is being done in the case of John Wilson. It is for good reason that we have the maxim: suppressio veri, expression falsi. One cannot expect a jury denied the facts to do true justice as our system intends. To have John Wilson convicted by a jury deprived of all relevant facts about his condition and marijuana use, is no more a challenge than convicting someone of overtime parking. Except, tragically, in this case the conviction sends a multiple sclerosis sufferer to prison for decades. It is pathetic that a prosecutor would be given any credit for a conviction under these circumstances no less laud it as a “victory”. It is certainly a loss for justice.

The public record documents the anger felt by jurors when they learn of the true facts only after the trial. This was the case in 2003 when a federal jury in California convicted Ed Rosenthal for growing marijuana. After rendering the verdict, jury members were informed that Mr. Rosenthal was not only growing it for medical patients, but that he was doing so pursuant to California law and in fact was doing so as an agent of the city of Oakland. Naturally the court and prosecution considered those inconvenient facts “prejudicial” to the jury’s impartiality.

Consider the infamous case of Richard Paey, a paraplegic sentenced to serve a twenty-five year prison sentence in Florida for “drug distribution” merely for his use of prescription drugs to alleviate his extreme and constant pain. In Florida, the law allows possession of over a certain quantity of even prescription drugs to be alleged to constitute distribution. The prosecutors knew this tormented individual never attempted to nor did he ever have the intention or means to sell. Still they made sure that the jury was unaware of its innate power to do justice for this pathetic victim. Those jurors were publicly and understandably upset with the law and the verdict they believed they had to deliver. Their upset led to a campaign to free him, culminating in a pardon from the Governor. Still, Mr. Paey suffered three excruciating years in prison. Florida taxpayers pointlessly absorbed the costs of not only another prisoner but the considerable costs of maintaining him on a morphine drip. Must we make every jury so cynical that its members are forced to assume they are being deprived of compelling facts benefiting the defendant in these types of cases and automatically acquit to avoid tragic injustice?

Prosecutions carried out without regard to concerns about society’s legitimate protection, legislative intent or a sense of compassion for patients deserving mercy become tools of tyranny. Moreover, such prosecutions violate the fundamental tenets of our democracy and do a disservice to the very people they professes to benefit. The case at hand is as good an example as one can find of the very sort of tyranny that our jury system was designed to thwart and will, if given a fair chance. Just as in the cases noted above, a prosecution “victory” here sending John Wilson to prison works a disgraceful injustice on the system as well as the individual. To maintain the integrity we expect of our system of justice, we need to give the jury a fair opportunity to do justice. Thus far we are doing no more than repeating the tragic mistakes of others.

While the denial of facts to this jury may result in a conviction, it is a shortsighted strategy that has the potential to work harm to society in the future. Jurors should not believe they will be compelled to act solely on instinct if they are to abort a severely misguided prosecution-such as the one in this case. Should they vote to convict, we can expect jurors to publicly express misgivings once they learn of the actual facts, and especially when they put the facts in context of the legalization movement. We can rest assured future jury members will be cognizant of the fact that they may also be denied compelling exculpatory evidence that would change their view of the charges.

The applicable law in this matter is not inherently defective, but it has been unconscionably distorted and misused to punish a multiple sclerosis patient hurting no one while simply treating himself. A jury knowing the law’s full intent and all the facts has good reason to refuse to convict John Wilson. It could justifiably conclude that treating one’s multiple sclerosis with a substance widely recognized by the medical community as a palliative is not a crime and the legislature did not intend it to be prosecuted as one. Moreover, such a conclusion would be in accord with the views of the Senate of this State, the Assembly Health Committee, the office of Attorney General and our Governor as well as the laws of thirteen other states. Is unbridled prosecutorial zealousness in pursuit of the pointless and unjust conviction of a multiple sclerosis patient to be allowed to trump these compelling contrary views-embodying as they do the actual will of the people?

As the legislature moves inexorably to end the cruel criminal stigma for suffering persons using marijuana as medicine, your Gangs/Organized Crime Unit unleashes its full wrath on exactly such a person. What, one must ask, fuels the rush to do this clear injustice of branding a patient as a criminal? Certainly not even the prosecutors can seriously believe it is to protect society. The actual and only victim here is John Wilson himself who was desperately growing marijuana to treat his own tormenting multiple sclerosis. He was NOT involved in the drug trade nor does he pose any other risk to society the legislature sought to prohibit.

In light of the recent legislative action aimed specifically at authorizing the use of medical marijuana by multiple sclerosis patients and the intent and wording of existing statutes, this prosecution is an affront to the legislative process, justice and humanity. One labors to imagine how this prosecution could be made any more absurd, illogical, inhumane and contrary to clear legislative intent.

A concern for justice notwithstanding, one would expect more humane treatment of John Wilson on purely practical grounds. How can this State, with deficits running into the billions of dollars- intentionally devote precious resources in an effort to imprison a multiple sclerosis patient? In addition to the considerable costs of housing an ordinary prisoner, the taxpayers will have to pay for constant, expensive medical treatment for John Wilson. This burden is compounded by the ultimate absurdity that this considerable expense results in absolutely no benefit whatsoever to public safety. With actions like this, it is no mystery why New Jersey serves as the brunt of jokes. This can be expected to generate more-and justly so.

Ms. Milgram, as the Attorney General and our chief prosecutor, you are the only government official who can rein in the over zealousness of this prosecution. As Justice Jackson observed while he was Attorney General of the United States: “The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation that any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous.” If you will exercise your discretion in accordance with the true interests of justice and societal concerns, you can end this terribly misguided prosecution. If not, one legitimately may wonder why we need a human being as Attorney General. A prosecution computer would do as well. Input only facts favorable to the prosecution, set for maximum punishment and proceed to seek conviction regardless of the context, the consequences or humane concerns. It is for good reason we, as human beings, reject such mechanical justice. We expect our Attorney General to administer the laws fairly, acknowledging that the true interests of the state and society embrace our humanity. Thus it is that John Wilson’s case is exactly the type that cries out for your personal attention.

Neither true justice nor effective prosecution equate to seeking to convict every person of the highest degree crime possible, regardless of circumstances. Neither accepts that the law can be tortured to construe a meaning in violation of common sense and public safety. A just prosecution eliminates our need to rely for justice, as we do in this case, on the hope that one ordinary person called to jury duty and deprived of the facts will exhibit an instinct for the right and possess the considerable courage to act on it. Both justice and your duty exhort you, as our Attorney General, to exercise your prosecutorial discretion and save a harmless person afflicted with multiple sclerosis from prison.

Surely those in power realize that there are serious threats to public safety and welfare that must be addressed in New Jersey. Have we devoted adequate resources to combating the violent gangs openly roaming our cities and towns and literally shooting people in the streets? These are the criminals enriching themselves through the drug distribution chains and the ones at which the legislative proscriptions are aimed. The legislature took proper aim, yet your prosecutors manage to hit a multiple sclerosis patient! One would expect that actual drug gangs would be the focus for the Gangs/ Organized Crime Unit. Is it possible that it unable to discern the difference between gangs and patients?

Have we eradicated all political corruption? Have we begun indicting those responsible for the disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money from the School Board Construction Corporation? Have we held accountable all the illegal polluters that have propelled this state into the nation’s leadership in toxic superfund sites? Undoubtedly an opposing political candidate would want to continue. It is also likely that an opposing candidate may wish to suggest correcting the apparently inverted priorities of your Gangs/ Organized Crime unit, even if our resources were not strained.

The obvious and serious faults with this prosecution mandate that you step in to restore justice. If you will not, who else can we expect with influence in this administration to exhibit the rationality to accept that this prosecution is a waste of our resources and take the initiative to end it? Is there no one who possesses the ability to exercise simple good judgment, if not sound political instincts? A question our Governor himself may wish to ask of his Attorney General is: “What is the public good in rigorously prosecuting a multiple sclerosis patient at this juncture especially when he harmed no one and you have the discretion to recognize that his conduct is not violative of the statutory intent and does not merit any first degree charges?” A person suffering from multiple sclerosis who was merely trying to alleviate his own suffering through home -grown marijuana presents no danger to society. Thus, one can confidently assert that that no one in our State with an ounce of humanity or intelligence will breathe easier knowing that your office has worked to imprison John Wilson. Quite the opposite. Those with a sound moral compass will view this prosecution seeking to inflict greater punishment on a person like John Wilson as nothing less than a cruelly vengeful, pointless act unworthy of an enlightened people.

Finally, along with all the other considerations, we must consider what of you Ms. Milgram? Should this case proceed to conviction and a prison sentence under your authority, you can never assert with a clear conscience that you are a compassionate individual who prizes true justice. Your conscience will remind you of John Wilson. But you need not rely on your conscience alone. Thousands of individuals are already aware of John Wilson’s plight. Before this case is over, many hundreds of thousands of people nationwide will be aware of it. Many of them will be those suffering from conditions treatable with marijuana, as well as their family members, caregivers and the medical professionals treating them. Even more people will be outraged and even sickened by the injustice of this prosecution. Few will remember the judge’s name; even fewer will recall the prosecutor’s. Rest assured, however, virtually everyone who remembers this case will remember that you, Ms. Milgram, were the Attorney General with ultimate responsibility for this prosecution. Everyone will recall that you knew all the relevant and mitigating facts about John Wilson specifically that he was a suffering person and not a drug dealer or a danger to society. Moreover, you knew during the prosecution that the law was on the verge of being rewritten to protect him-and in fact you agreed with that protection. And yet, for no reason that an enlightened society would support, you allowed this terrible injustice to be inflicted on John Wilson although it was easily within your power and arguably within your duty, to stop it.

The fact that this travesty of justice is occurring within months of passage of the law allowing use of marijuana by persons exactly like John Wilson is a tragically ironic. The timing alone exacerbates both the injustice and the cruelty of this prosecution. If you, Ms. Milgram, will not act for John Wilson, or justice, or New Jersey, will you at least preserve your own conscience by insisting that your agency show simple compassion for a suffering individual who harmed no one? The current course ensures you will bring on yourself the enmity of all those patients who are and who will be using marijuana as approved medicine, as well as all those who believe in enlightened justice.

Perhaps even worse than a troubled conscience, you will consign yourself to the ranks of those who cast themselves forever on the wrong side of history; those who persecuted women because they feared witches, who denied rights to minorities believing them to be inferior or who, similarly lacking basic knowledge or compassion, imprisoned persons guilty of nothing but poverty or mental affliction. On rare occasions, to the credit of our higher and better nature, society evolves to achieve greater enlightenment and humanity. We are irrevocably approaching that point regarding the use of marijuana to ameliorate the ravages of many heartbreaking diseases. Eventually, knowledge will join compassion in eradicating the cruel injustices of a war on patients masquerading as a war on drugs. Sadly, some will continue to cloak themselves in the darkness of ignorance long after the light dawns for most others. Those persons wielding power who do so and cling to the ways of a discredited past, decrying the advancement, are justifiably vilified by the verdict of history. You can act to ensure that you will not share the stigma of that fate.

At this juncture, when the overwhelming and ever-growing scientific evidence of the clear benefits of marijuana to help the sick are being slowly but inexorably recognized by governments, you, Ms. Milgram, can choose to lead along the path of enlightenment and humane justice. You can act right now to protect a harmless multiple sclerosis patient from the horror of imprisonment for an act that should never have been made illegal but, which, in any event, will be legal within months. The reputations of those, like you, who are entrusted with great authority is never justly measured by the plaudits from others similarly favored with power and influence. You are assured of getting those regardless of what you do. The true measure of a person’s worth is whether they exercised their authority so as to deserve the respect of those who have the least, who suffer the most and who desperately need our help. John Wilson is such a person.

Just as in every war, someone is tragically the last to die; in the strife of every social advancement, someone is the last sacrificed as a martyr to past injustice. Let that not be John Wilson’s fate.

It is unfathomable that anyone with the power to stop a clear injustice would not act to do so at any time. It is incredibly tragic that it would be permitted at this juncture when the legislature has finally recognized the benefits of marijuana as a medicine to many patients and is bringing a long overdue measure of humanity to the law. If John Wilson is knowingly allowed to be the last casualty of the current inane and inhumane policy, it will be an indelible stain on justice, New Jersey, and your conscience.

Very truly yours,
Edward R. Hannaman, Esq.
Board Member, CMMNJ

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act

July 21, 2009

The "New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act" was introduced in 2005 by Senator Scutari (D-Linden) and Assemblymen Gusciora (D-Princeton) and Carroll (R-Morris). This bill would remove the statewide penalties for possession, use and cultivation of a small amount of marijuana when it is recommended by a doctor. New Jersey patients would still be subject to federal laws against marijuana, but this bill would protect the vast majority of legitimate New Jersey medical marijuana users. The bill had informational hearings in the Senate in June 2006, and in the Assembly in May 2008. Every major newspaper in New Jersey had editorially endorsed this bill. The bill also picked up key endorsements from health care organizations such as the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, the New Jersey League for Nursing, the New Jersey chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the New Jersey State Nurses Association. Polls showed the New Jersey public supported this bill with approval ratings between 70% and 86%. The bill picked up a total of 11 co-sponsors in the Assembly and 8 in the Senate.

On December 15, 2008, the New Jersey Senate Health Committee conducted a hearing and then voted 6 – 1 in favor of “The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” (S119) as amended. The amendments established Alternative Treatment Centers that resembled collective gardens, where patients owned the marijuana plants and reimbursed the Centers for the cost of producing the medicine. The favorable committee vote allowed the bill to be released to the full senate for a vote.

On February 23, 2009, the New Jersey State Senate approved the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act" (S119) by a vote of 22 – 16 in the State House Senate Chambers in Trenton, NJ. Many supporters of the bill attended the voting session. The senate vote was a significant step in the legislative process to protect patients who use marijuana on the recommendation of a physician. Qualifying medical conditions included chronic pain, cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, etc. Patients would be issued ID cards in a program run by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). Patients would be permitted to grow up to six plants and possess one ounce of marijuana, but they would not be permitted to use their therapeutic marijuana in public or while operating motor vehicles. Patients were given the option to designate a caregiver or an Alternative Treatment Center to grow the plants for them, but the caregiver/center must also register with DHSS. The bill was very conservative. None of the 13 medical marijuana states had a smaller plant limit or possession amount. Still, supporters were convinced that the bill would help a tremendous number of patients here and they applauded the senators who supported this bill.

The bill would next go to the New Jersey Assembly, the lower house, for votes in the health committee and then the entire assembly. Governor Jon Corzine had said on several occasions that he supports medical marijuana and that he would sign the bill when it got to his desk. New Jersey would become the 14th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana when it passed this legislation into law.

On June 4, 2009 the New Jersey Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act 8 - 1, forwarding the bill to the full Assembly for a vote in the fall of 2009. The Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey, Inc. is grateful to the assembly health committee for passing the "New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” A804/S119 on to the entire assembly, however, CMMNJ objects to the substitutions added by the committee. The committee’s substitutions to this bill are overly restrictive and they possibly render the bill unworkable. The assembly health committee’s substitutions:

· Remove the provision for qualified patients to grow their own supply of marijuana;
· Place severe and unnecessary restrictions on physician recommendations;
· Deny access to the largest population of patients, those suffering from chronic pain; and,
· Arbitrarily limit patient access to one ounce of marijuana per month.

Home cultivation:
Having qualified patients or their caregivers grow a limited supply of marijuana on a physician’s recommendation is part of the program of all thirteen states that have passed these laws. Nor does this patient access result in greater recreational use of marijuana—one of the fears the committee was apparently addressing. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration studies show that teenage marijuana use has declined in eight of ten medical marijuana states between 1999 and 2006. Marijuana use by AIDS patients and cancer patients deglamorizes its use for teenagers. It is not something they want to emulate. Moreover, for the past 30 years, the Monitoring the Future surveys have shown that over 80% of high school seniors in New Jersey have said that marijuana is “very easy to obtain” or “fairly easy to obtain.” Instituting a medical marijuana program simply cannot increase availability to teens and almost certainly will result in decreased teen use. Another study by Texas A&M University shows that adult use of marijuana has remained steady in medical marijuana states. As further proof that these programs are working well, twelve other states, besides New Jersey, have legislation or ballot initiatives pending that will allow qualified patients to grow their own medical marijuana. It is a wonderful advance in American healthcare to allow patients to produce their own medicine and individually adjust the dosage to control their symptoms, safely, under medical supervision. This will produce tremendous savings both to the patient and to the state. This will also refocus the healthcare industry away from the pharmaceutical industry and the health insurance industry and a back towards the patient, where the focus of healthcare belongs.

Physician restrictions:
The restrictions the assembly health committee placed on physicians are at odds with current medical practices in America and may well render the law unworkable. Physicians specialize. If you break an ankle, your doctor sends you to the ankle doctor. But if you need marijuana therapy, your treating physician would be unable to send you to a doctor who specializes in marijuana therapy, according to the health committee. Physicians are wisely reluctant to recommend a treatment unless they have had specialized training or experience in that treatment. Because of this, even otherwise qualified patients will do without proper treatment. It would not be without precedent for the New Jersey legislature to pass an unworkable medical marijuana bill. In 1981, the “Dangerous Substances Therapeutic Research Act” passed into law here. This law was written to protect patients who engaged in clinical trials of marijuana. To this day, not a single patient has ever been able to take advantage of this law. The assembly health committee also said that only New Jersey licensed physicians could recommend marijuana to their patients. If a New Jersey patient sought treatment in New York City or Philadelphia, that patient would not be protected. Nor could out-of-state medical marijuana patients safely visit friends or relatives, or even vacation in New Jersey.

Chronic pain:
The assembly substitutions acknowledge that “marijuana may alleviate pain or other symptoms associated with certain debilitating medical conditions.” But then it eliminates chronic pain as a qualifying condition for marijuana therapy except in rare cases. Nearly half of all current physician recommendations for marijuana therapy are for chronic pain. About one in five Americans suffer from chronic pain from a wide variety of diseases like arthritis and conditions like accidents and injuries. Some of the most rigorous studies, studies using the gold standard of scientific research (the double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial) have established the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana in pain management. It is simply unfair to restrict the greatest number of New Jersey patients from access to medical marijuana.

Arbitrary limitations:
The Assembly Health Committee also arbitrarily determined that every qualified patient should be limited to only one ounce of marijuana a month. There is no scientific basis for this limitation. In fact, the federal government, in its Investigational New Drug (IND) program provides patients with two ounces of marijuana per week. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) sends this standard dose of marijuana, about a half-pound a month, to the patients enrolled in this program in canisters of 300 pre-rolled cigarettes that may be consumed at a rate of ten or more a day. NIDA has been doing this for up to 27 years. This long-term dosage has proven to be safe and effective, with no unacceptable side effects. For legislators to set this arbitrary one ounce limit is akin to saying, “We know you need antibiotics, but we’re only going to let you have one pill a day. Never mind what your doctor says, never mind what community standards are, and never mind how you are responding to this therapy.”

The senate version of the "New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” A804/S119 does not contain the assembly health committee’s substitutions. CMMNJ recommends that this version of the bill should pass into law. This will ensure a workable, cost-effective, and proven program for qualified patients, that is, at the same time, extremely conservative. Let’s make sure that the intent of this bill is not undone by undue restrictions.

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA
Executive Director
Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, Inc. www.cmmnj.org