Sunday, February 27, 2011

Maryland's Hearing on HB291, Public Health Medical Marijuana

Testimony to the Maryland Health and Government Operations Committee
In support of House Bill 291, “Public Health--Medical Marijuana”
By: Kenneth R. Wolski, RN, MPA
February 28, 2011

I am a registered nurse (RN) licensed to practice in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and I have been doing so since 1976. My professional opinion is that marijuana is a safe, effective and inexpensive therapeutic agent that should be available to any patient who can benefit from it.

Currently, I am Executive Director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey. (CMMNJ). CMMNJ is a 501(c)(3) corporation. Our mission is to educate the public about the benefits of medical marijuana. I co-founded CMMNJ in 2003 with Jim Miller, whose wife, Cheryl, was an MS patient who died before she could ever legally use medical marijuana.

Accordingly, I am presenting to this committee hyperlinks to:
• A documentary that CMMNJ produced entitled, “Marijuana is Medicine.” This 26 minute film tells the story of patients and healthcare providers who are struggling with outdated drug laws. It is available in three parts. See also, Part II and Part III.
The story of Cheryl Miller from a booklet entitled “Patients in the Crossfire” that was produced in 2004 by the California-based organization, Americans for Safe Access. This booklet tells the personal stories of patients whose lives were uprooted by the government’s refusal to acknowledge the science that supports medical marijuana.

In 2004 the American Nurses Association (ANA) adopted a Position Statement on "Providing Patients Safe Access to Marijuana/Cannabis." The ANA recognized that:
• marijuana has been used medicinally for centuries;
• patients should have safe access to therapeutic marijuana/cannabis; and,
• marijuana has been shown to be effective for a wide range of symptoms and conditions.
The ANA supports legislation to remove criminal penalties including arrest and imprisonment for bona fide patients and prescribers of therapeutic marijuana/cannabis. The ANA supports federal and state legislation to exclude marijuana/cannabis from classification as a Schedule I drug. The ANA represents 2.7 million RN's in the U.S. RN’s are the largest group of health care professionals and we are, according to Gallup polls, the most trusted profession in the nation.

I have no doubt that medical marijuana will eventually be permitted throughout the U.S. There is too much logic, common sense, compassion and science that supports it. Logic says that doctors prescribe far more dangerous and addicting drugs than marijuana every day; common sense says that this issue ought to be decided in the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship, in the best interest of the patient; compassion says that no patient should suffer needlessly; and there is a wealth of scientific evidence that supports the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana.

I have reviewed House Bill 291, Public Health--Medical Marijuana, and I would like to share with you New Jersey's experience, as the Maryland bill closely resembles the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act that passed into law in January 2010 in the Garden State.

It has been over one year since the NJ Compassionate Use Act passed into law, and still not a single patient has yet received legal medical marijuana in this state, not a single dispensary is even close to opening, and not a single legal marijuana plant is even growing in this state.

Maryland needs to propose a bill that has at least some chance of actually getting marijuana to qualified patients. A provision for home cultivation is really the only way to guarantee this, as New Jersey's experience proves.

Home cultivation, which is legal in 13 states, guarantees desperate patients access to marijuana therapy. Nor does home cultivation create a significant risk of diversion. Medical marijuana use does not increase non-medical marijuana use, according to the government's own surveys. Home cultivation, moreover, is an important part of health care reform. It empowers patients to produce their own medicine for pennies, and safely control their painful and debilitating symptoms. It allows the patients themselves to take charge of their health issues, under medical supervision, and in a program run by the state health department.

New Jersey's original bill included a provision for home cultivation. Qualified patients who had a state-issued ID card would each be permitted to grow up to six plants. Patients who were unable to grow marijuana for themselves would be able to obtain their medicine from Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs). These ATCs were non-profit collective gardens that would grow up to six plants for each registered patient and the patient would reimburse the ATC for the cost of producing and processing the marijuana. This version of the bill passed in the NJ Senate, and would have provided a very conservative, state-run program of guaranteed access to medical marijuana for qualified patients. Instead, the NJ Assembly removed home cultivation from the bill and changed the nature of the ATCs to a heavily-regulated quasi-pharmacy model. The NJ Department of Health and Senior Services has been trying for the past year to create regulations to enact this model and has yet to be successful. Meanwhile, patients in NJ continue to suffer needlessly. Or, they risk arrest, prosecution and incarceration (along with a host of severe civil penalties) for using a medicine that the State of New Jersey recognizes as a safe and effective treatment for the very debilitating medical condition from which they suffer.

Don't let this happen in Maryland. Since Maryland is clearly serious about providing safe and legal access to medical marijuana to desperately ill patients, it must include a provision for home cultivation. While it is laudable that Maryland's bill will reschedule marijuana in your state, no pharmacy in the country will dispense it until marijuana is rescheduled nationally, and that is years away from happening.

Thank you for your anticipated support of these important patient care issues. With your help we can ensure that no patient in Maryland suffers needlessly or gets imprisoned for following the advice of a physician. And thank you for the opportunity to address this committee.

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA
Executive Director, Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, Inc.
219 Woodside Ave., Trenton, NJ 08618

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