Friday, May 18, 2012

Testimony in Support of A1465




Testimony in Support of A1465
New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee
May 21, 2012

The Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey, Inc. (CMMNJ) supports Assembly Bill 1465 which decriminalizes possession of 15 grams of marijuana or less.  This bill will provide a level of protection for thousands of sick, disabled, and dying patients which New Jersey's medical marijuana law does not provide.

The mission of CMMNJ is to educate the public about the medical benefits of marijuana.  Since CMMNJ was founded in 2003, Board members of this organization have taken a strictly neutral stance on the issue of broader legalization of marijuana. But at this time the Board of CMMNJ has endorsed A1465 for these reasons:

  • Over 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;
  • 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 medicinal marijuana law is a failure.  The original bill was introduced into the legislature in January 2005.  This bill was meant to protect patients who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions and who use marijuana on the advice of licensed physicians.  After five years of debate the bill was signed into law in January 2010.  Yet as of today, not a single patient or caregiver in New Jersey has even received an ID card from the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS).  Not a single Alternative Treatment Center is yet open for business and not a single legal marijuana plant is yet growing in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, patients continue to be arrested and imprisoned for using marijuana to treat debilitating and even fatal medical conditions here.  Eric Hafner was recently arrested in Monmouth County for possession of less than a gram of marijuana.  Eric, a card-carrying medical marijuana patient from California, faces up to a year in a New Jersey jail when his case comes to trial later this year.

Even if the DHSS’s MMP ever gets operation, 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 cases of chronic pain in the United States--about one in four people suffer from this at some point in their lives.  Given New Jersey’s population of over eight million people, this 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 by the MMP.

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 evidence that marijuana can be useful in the management of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, mania, crippling anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and even some cases of schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s Disease.  Current research has even identified the component
of marijuana—a cannabinoid—that has anti-psychotic properties.  Moreover, marijuana’s safety margin is certainly far greater than those of the accepted and traditional pharmaceutical interventions for these maladies.  Yet no mental or emotional disorders qualify for marijuana therapy in New Jersey.

The DHSS is empowered to add qualifying conditions for marijuana therapy at any time.  Yet the DHSS has proposed a most cumbersome process to do so in the regulations that they have adopted.  CMMNJ predicts 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 for following the advice of their physicians.  Millions more suffer needlessly while a viable therapeutic agent is readily at hand.  This is unacceptable.

Marijuana’s therapeutic potential is enormous. Clearly, the criminal justice system is not qualified to determine who the legitimate patients are.  Neither has the state legislature nor the DHSS shown that they are up to the task. Leave this up to the medical community in New Jersey to determine who is using marijuana appropriately, as medicine.  Meanwhile, stop arresting patients.

CMMNJ urges the Assembly Judiciary Committee to support A1465.  Thank you.

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA, Executive Director
Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey, Inc. (www.cmmnj.org)
219 Woodside Ave., Trenton, NJ 08618
609.394.2137

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