Monday, July 26, 2010

Patients need no more delays or trial balloons; implement the medical marijuana law as written

The Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey (CMMNJ) fought the delay in implementing the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act and kept the focus on patients. Governor Christie and his administration requested a 6 – 12 month delay. But with the support of the lead sponsor of the bill, Senator Nicholas Scutari, (D-Linden) the legislature agreed to just a 90-day delay. Governor Christie’s spokesman said more time was needed to implement the law correctly.

The Governor’s appointee to Commissioner of the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), Dr. Poonam Alaigh, expressed support for medical marijuana that was wholehearted and unquestioned. Unfortunately, Dr. Alaigh also expressed some fears about cannabis. In an appearance on NJN, Dr. Alaigh feared that New Jersey would devolve into the “wild, wild West of California” where marijuana dispensaries outnumber Starbucks coffee shops. But according to New Jersey’s law, only six (6) Alternative Treatment Centers will initially be permitted to open. The DHSS will grant licenses to these dispensaries, and it has the power to revoke these licenses. The DHSS has the power to monitor, oversee and investigate all activities of these Centers, including the prices that are charged to patients. It is difficult to imagine the basis for the fear of an uncontrolled proliferation of dispensaries in the state, since the DHSS has absolute control over when, and if, additional Centers may open.

A more disturbing development to medical marijuana advocates was the proposal floated by the Christie administration to allow only Rutgers University and the New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals to be the sole producer and distributor of medical marijuana in the state. Advocates were certain that this proposal would only delay, perhaps indefinitely, realistic patient access to medical marijuana in New Jersey.

Gov. Christie’s proposal was unworkable for the following reasons:
1. Rutgers University and the Council of Teaching Hospitals would undoubtedly seek approval from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and the DEA will never grant that approval. The DEA does not recognize medical marijuana.
2. University and medical center employees would be at risk for federal prosecution and federal subsidies to these institutions would be jeopardized.
3. The head of Rutgers Agricultural School has gone on record as saying that his school is not interested in producing any cash crop, let alone marijuana.
4. Hospitals are not prepared to be marijuana dispensaries. They would have to hire more staff and expand facilities.
5. The proposal appears to corrupt the open, competitive bidding process by steering the state contracts for medical marijuana services to entities favored by highly placed political figures.
6. The law would have to be amended for these changes to be approved, and any amendment will only result in further delays. Every 90 days, 25% of the state’s hospice patients die. These otherwise qualified patients are dying without the relief that marijuana can bring them.

On Friday, July 23, 2010, Rutgers University declined the request from the Christie administration to be the sole producer of New Jersey’s medical marijuana crop. Doing so might jeopardize millions of dollars in federal funding, the dean of the biological school said.

This law does not need any more delays or trial balloons. The state health department will tightly regulate the Alternative Treatment Centers provided for in the law. Highly qualified private citizens stand ready to offer their expertise and take on the risk in order to serve patients. The medical marijuana law should be implemented as it is written without further delay.

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