Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Jersey Gubernatorial Candidates Support Medical Marijuana

The Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey (CMMNJ) was pleased to see that all three candidates for governor of New Jersey said they support medical marijuana. On Thursday, October 1, 2009, during a debate in Trenton, Democrat Jon Corzine, Republican Chris Christie and Independent Chris Daggett all agreed to sign a medical marijuana bill into law. See:

Christie said, "There have to be sufficient safeguards so that we don't turn into California where everybody with a headache is going out getting high." Corzine agreed: "If you have a headache, it probably should be excluded from the reasons why people get medical marijuana."

It is laudable that the gubernatorial candidates want to protect seriously ill or injured New Jersey patients who use therapeutic marijuana on the advice of a licensed physician. However, it is unfortunate that the candidates dismissed "headaches" as a qualifying condition for therapeutic marijuana. Headaches can vary widely in intensity, frequency and duration. They can be the typical headache that is relieved by two aspirins, or they can be so intensely painful that they induce vomiting and drive the sufferer to a quiet, darkened room for solace. When the latter type headache occurs frequently, they require neurological work-ups and often treatment with powerful pain-killers that are dangerous and potentially addicting. These headaches can be disabling, and marijuana therapy should certainly be considered in these cases. Politicians should stop "playing doctor" and should allow licensed physicians to decide what diseases, conditions and symptoms qualify for marijuana therapy. Research related to marijuana and headaches is available at:

CMMNJ also wonders, “What it is that politicians think is wrong with California?” Voters there approved Proposition 215 in 1996, establishing the first medical marijuana law. There have been no successful legislative or judicial challenges to the medical marijuana law in the state since. The US Supreme Court has affirmed California’s right to define marijuana as medicine. California residents continue to appreciate the benefits of their state authorized program. Patients no longer suffer needlessly or fear arrest and imprisonment for following the advice of a physician. The medical marijuana industry is contributing tax revenue to municipal and state coffers. California universities and medical centers have been conducting medical marijuana research. Overall, marijuana arrests are declining, teen marijuana use is declining, and state resources are not being wasted by arresting and imprisoning medical patients. In the end, California has greatly benefited from its medical marijuana program. Twelve other states have enacted medical marijuana laws since 1996 and another 14 states--New Jersey included--have legislation or ballot initiatives pending. California is clearly a leader on this issue.

CMMNJ Board member Chris Goldstein commented, “I was in San Francisco last week and medical marijuana represents a growing industry, but it is too often maligned by politicians in other states who are under-educated on the topic.” Goldstein said, “No one complains of a headache and gets into a medical marijuana dispensary in California. Everyone needs a recommendation from a licensed physician. One cannot purchase medical marijuana in the same manner as aspirin. Having witnessed the security and check-in procedures at several dispensaries in Oakland, it is certainly different than walking into a Walgreens.”

The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act A804/S119 is now in a final drive to passage. The bill has passed the Assembly and Senate Health committees and a Senate floor vote. The issue has received favorable editorials from most newspapers in the state. Now it must see an Assembly floor vote and will likely require an additional concurrence vote in the Senate. Recent polls show between 70% - 86% of New Jerseyans favor medical marijuana access. There is certainty bi-partisan political support for the bill, but passage this year remains far from assured. New Jersey would become the 14th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana if it passes this legislation into law in the near future.

The Senate bill, S119, will remove the state penalties for the possession, use and cultivation of a small amount of marijuana when a licensed physician recommends it for a debilitating medical condition. Qualifying medical conditions include chronic pain, cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, etc. Patients will be issued ID cards in a program run by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). Patients will be permitted to grow up to six plants and possess one ounce of marijuana, but they will not be permitted to use their therapeutic marijuana in public or while operating motor vehicles. Patients may designate a caregiver or treatment center to grow the plants for them, but the caregiver/center must also register with DHSS. The substitute bill released by the Assembly Health Committee in June 2009, A804, is far more restrictive. It denies access to the largest population of patients, nearly all those suffering from “chronic pain,” it places severe restrictions on which physicians would be permitted to make medical marijuana recommendations, and it removes the provision for qualified patients to grow their own supply of marijuana.

Many professional health care organizations have endorsed medical marijuana including the American Nurses Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the American Public Health Association, and the American Academy of HIV Medicine. For a complete list of organizations supporting medical marijuana, see the web site of Patients Out of Time.

More information on medical marijuana in New Jersey is available at the web site of CMMNJ, CMMNJ, a 501(c)(3) public charity, provides education about the benefits of safe and legal access to medical marijuana.

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

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