Friday, September 30, 2011

Resolution of support for A4252, which “Decriminalizes possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana” in New Jersey

Jim Miller, co-founder and President of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey, Inc. (CMMNJ) said:

“CMMNJ should support A4252 which decriminalizes possession of 15 grams of marijuana or less because it will provide a level of support for thousands of sick, disabled, and dying patients which New Jersey's medical marijuana law will not provide by virtue of their statuary exclusion.”

“At least pain patients with an ‘unapproved source of pain’ will not be subjected to criminal proceedings for possession of the same amount of marijuana as a one week supply allowed to patients in the exclusive list allowed by law. This holds true for patients who would be approved in other states with medical marijuana law, but not in their home state of New Jersey.”

Since CMMNJ was founded, Board members of this organization have taken a strictly neutral stance on the issue of broader legalization of marijuana and/or drugs in general. We neither support it nor oppose it. Though many of our supporters favor broader legalization of drugs, many other supporters do not. The mission of CMMNJ has been to educate the public about the medical benefits of marijuana.

At this time the Board of CMMNJ has endorsed Assembly Bill A4252 which decriminalizes possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana in New Jersey. The bill currently has seventeen sponsors led by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-25) and Michael Patrick Carroll (R-15). CMMNJ has taken this action for these reasons:

  • Nearly two years have passed since the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law, yet not a single patient has received legal medical marijuana; and,
  • Patients continue to be arrested and imprisoned in this state for using medical marijuana illegally to treat their medical conditions; and,
  • Countless patients who could benefit from medical marijuana are currently disqualified from participating in New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP) and will continue to be disqualified for the foreseeable future.

New Jersey’s medical marijuana law is a failure. The original bill was introduced into the legislature in January 2005. After five years of debate, the bill was signed into law in January 2010. Yet as of the autumn of 2011, not a single patient or caregiver in New Jersey has received an ID card from the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) as provided for in the law. Not a single legal marijuana plant is growing in New Jersey, and not a single Alternative Treatment Center has opened its doors.

Meanwhile, patients continue to be arrested and imprisoned for using marijuana to treat debilitating and even fatal medical conditions here. The state wanted to impose a 20 year prison sentence on John Wilson for growing marijuana to treat his incurable and painful multiple sclerosis (MS). Moreover, the state refused to allow Wilson to testify at his trial that the marijuana that he was growing was being used solely to treat his MS. Wilson is appealing his conviction, but he has already begun serving a five year prison sentence in the harsh confines of both the Somerset County Jail and the state prison system. The painful irony in this case is that the State now recognizes marijuana as a treatment for MS, but Wilson’s crime is that he recognized it before the State did.

Even if the DHSS’s MMP ever gets operational, it is wildly deficient in properly identifying patients who can benefit from medical marijuana in New Jersey. Chronic pain, for example, is considered a qualifying condition only if it is associated with HIV/AIDS or cancer. All other cases of chronic pain are disqualified. There are an estimated 75 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain, about one in four people. Given New Jersey’s population of over 8 million people, that means that over two million New Jerseyans could benefit from medical marijuana for chronic pain alone. All but a handful of these patients are disqualified.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in four Americans suffer from mental illness at some time in their lives. Many of these patients could benefit from marijuana therapy. There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that marijuana can be useful in the management of depression, mania, crippling anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and even some cases of schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Current research has even identified the specific component of marijuana that has anti-psychotic properties. Moreover, marijuana’s safety margin is certainly greater than those of the accepted and traditional pharmaceutical interventions for these maladies.

Yet no mental or emotional conditions qualify for marijuana therapy in New Jersey.

The DHSS is empowered to add qualifying conditions at any time. Yet the DHSS has proposed a most cumbersome process to do so in the regulations that they will soon adopt. CMMNJ predicts that it will be a minimum of five years before the chronic pain category is expanded and a minimum of ten years before mental or emotional conditions are added as qualifying conditions for marijuana therapy in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, legitimate patients continue to be dragged through the legal system and even imprisoned simply for following the advice of their physicians. Millions more suffer needlessly while a viable therapeutic alternative is readily at hand.

It is for these reasons that CMMNJ supports A4252 which decriminalizes possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana in New Jersey. Marijuana’s therapeutic potential is enormous. Who are the legitimate patients that can benefit from medical marijuana? Clearly, the criminal justice system is not qualified to determine this. Nor have the state legislature or the DHSS shown that they are up to the task. Let the medical community in New Jersey determine who is using marijuana appropriately, as medicine, in the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship.

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