Friday, November 30, 2012

Taxing medical marijuana ill-advised

The Christie administration’s decision to tax the sale of medical marijuana is ill-advised. Neither the law nor the regulations to enact the law call for such a tax.  In fact, the New Jersey Division of Taxation’s Technical Bulletin issued 2/16/10 clearly notes that, “Effective October 1, 2005, all drugs for human use, including prescribed drugs and over-the-counter drugs are exempt from sales and use tax.”

Medical marijuana in New Jersey’s strictly regulated Medicinal Marijuana Program is most like a prescription medicine.  Physicians will write their recommendation for a specific and limited amount of marijuana; patients will take that recommendation to a licensed Alternative Treatment Center (ATC); the ATC will dispense that specific amount of marijuana to the patient; the patient may only return to the ATC at specified intervals for refills; and, there are penalties for misuse of the marijuana that the patient receives.

Prescription drugs are not subject to sales tax in New Jersey and neither should medical marijuana be subject to this tax.

It has been said that the original sponsor of the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, Senator Nicholas Scutari, “had in mind” to tax medical marijuana, though he never included that language in the bill.  Well, we know that Sen. Scutari had a lot of things in mind when he introduced that legislation—things that would actually help patients, and guarantee implementation of the bill.  Some of the things Sen. Scutari wanted that were included in the bill that passed the entire state Senate by a vote of 22 - 16 on February 23, 2009 were:
All chronic pain patients would qualify, not just cancer and AIDS patients;
Out-of-state ID cards would be recognized and respected;
Patients could grow 6 plants each to guarantee access to the drug.

None of these things were included in the final version of the law, which passed about a year later in January 2010.  Instead only restrictions and impediments were placed in the path of patient access.  These were followed by burdensome and unnecessary regulations that have kept this safe and effective medicine from desperately ill patients whose suffering could be eased by it.

I worked for the State of New Jersey for over 25 years.  I started working for the Department of State for two summers while I was still in high school in the 1960’s.  In the 1970’s I worked for the Department of Human Services for four years.  Between 1984 and 2006 I worked for the Department of Corrections.  If I learned nothing else in all that time with the state, it was, “If it wasn’t documented, it wasn’t done.”

Nowhere is there documentation that the state expected to collect taxes from the sale of medical marijuana.  It is not included in the original Compassionate Use Act that was introduced in 2005, and it is not included in the final version of the Act that passed into law in January 2010.  Nor is there any mention of the collection of sales tax in the 100 plus pages of regulations that were adopted by the Department of Health to enact this law.  Nor is there anything about sales taxes in the regulations adopted by the Board of Medical Examiners.

This is another example of an arbitrary and capricious burden that is being put on the patients who qualify for this program.  It takes its place with other rules from the Christie administration —like the physician registry, the 10% cap on THC, and the micromanagement of ATC’s--that guarantee limited patient access, sub-standard marijuana, and high cost to the patient.  If, that is, the program ever gets working in the first place.

Governor Christie has repeatedly exceeded his constitutional powers in interfering with a law that he does not agree with. Adding a sales tax on medical marijuana is another example of this.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Glaucoma patient faces surgery due to state's failure to implement its medical marijuana law

Susan Sturner is a card-carrying patient in the Medicinal Marijuana Program in New Jersey.  She is very angry.  She has paid the required fees and jumped through all the hoops the Department of Health has established in order to register in the program.  But she still can’t get her medicine. 

Greenleaf Alternative Treatment Center in Montclair, NJ has been, so far, the only medical marijuana dispensary to get a final permit from the state.  But Greenleaf has yet to open its doors to patients.  Susan called around.  She said the Department of Health points to Greenleaf as responsible for the delay; Greenleaf points to the Department of Health.

Meanwhile, Susan still can’t get her medicine. 

Susan is a glaucoma patient and she faces blindness.  The pressure in her eyes--her intraocular pressure--is dangerously high.  Her ophthalmologist has recommended a major surgical procedure--putting tubes in her eyes--to control this pressure.  Any surgical procedure entails significant risk.  A far less risky option—and far less costly--is marijuana therapy.  Marijuana has been shown to reduce intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients who, like Susan, do not respond to traditional pharmaceutical treatment.

In fact, the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana law specifically allows glaucoma patients to qualify for marijuana therapy.  But Susan still can’t get her medicine, despite the fact that this law passed nearly three years ago.

Susan is ready and willing to sue Governor Christie and anyone else in state government who is preventing her from obtaining medicine to which she is legally entitled.  In fact, her ID card is over a month old, which means she has been paying the state for a month for nothing.

Susan came to the November meeting of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey, which was held as usual at the Lawrence Township Library in Mercer County. 

She discussed going out-of-state.  Sure, she could travel to Rhode Island and use her New Jersey ID card to legally purchase medical marijuana there.  But if she brings the marijuana back to her New Jersey home, she faces arrest, imprisonment, and a host of civil penalties. 

Susan said that we should send a sympathy card to the governor from all the people who have died during the failure of the Christie administration to implement this law.  We discussed her idea at the meeting but decided that it would be impossible for two reasons: first, we could never figure out all their names, and second, because the list of cards would be in the tens of thousands and we could not afford to send that many cards.

Tens of thousands of New Jersey hospice patients die every year who have not gotten the medical marijuana they are entitled to by law.  Add to these the cancer patients, the patients with AIDS, the seizure patients, the patients with neurological conditions and the patients with abdominal conditions, and the number of patients who die suffering needlessly every year is staggering.

And remember, New Jersey’s list of medical conditions that qualify for marijuana therapy is the most restrictive in the nation.  If the full range of marijuana’s therapeutic potential were recognized and permitted, hundreds of thousands of patients here could be helped in a safe and cost-effective way.  As it is, hundreds of thousands of New Jersey patients, like Susan Sturner, continue to be harmed every day by the state’s failure to fully implement this law.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

CMMNJ November 2012 Meeting Agenda

Monthly Public Meeting Agenda
Lawrence Township Library, Room #2

Tuesday, November 13, 2012; 7:00 PM -- 9:00 PM

7:00 PM:  Call meeting to order.   Approve October 2012 minutes.  Discuss:

Election 2012: Massachusetts becomes 18th medical marijuana state.  Colorado & Washington state voters pass marijuana legalization laws.  (Sky has yet to fall.)

NJ’s Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP) is still not functioning—not a single patient has yet gotten any.  About 300 patient ID cards have been issued.  Dir. O’Brien issues final permit to Greenleaf ATC; says supply of medical marijuana was not damaged by Hurricane Sandy.  The lawsuit against DOH for failure to implement the state’s MMP is progressing and it asks the court to appoint CMMNJ monitor of the program.

Sen. Scutari’s S1977 (to decriminalize 50 grams of marijuana) is not yet scheduled for a committee hearing.  (NJ Assembly passed A1465--decrim for 15 grams--on 6/25/12.)

Ed (NJWeedman) Forchion’s retrial for distribution charge: “not guilty” by a Burlington County jury of his peers, despite the fact that he admitted possessing a pound of marijuana.  

Recent events: NJ State Nurses Assn. gave Ken Wolski, RN “Don Award” for his medical marijuana advocacy, Atlantic City, 10/24/12.  ASA v. DEA oral arguments in federal court 10/16 & ASA’s 10-year benefit dinner in D.C.  (CMMNJ’s 10th anniversary upcoming in March 2013.)

Treasury report: Checking: $3255; PayPal: $3353.

Schedule of CMMNJ 2013 meetings:  Lawrence Library not available Feb. & Nov. 2013. CMMNJ meetings are the second Tuesday of each month from 7 - 9 PM at the Lawrence Twp.
Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrence Twp., Tel. #609.882.9246.  All are welcome.  (Meeting at the library does not imply their endorsement of our issue.)  For more info, contact:

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA, Executive Director, Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey, Inc.
219 Woodside Ave., Trenton, NJ 08618   (609) 394-2137
CMMNJ, a 501(c)(3) public charity, is a non-profit educational organization.

Monthly Public Meeting Minutes
Lawrence Library
October 9, 2012

7:00 PM:  Meeting called to order.   September 2012 minutes approved.  Discussion:

So far, 239 patients have registered for ID cards with DOH; in addition to other fees, patients must pay $65 for background checks for caregivers.  Problems with doctors continue. 

ATC update: More delays; promised September opening of Montclair ATC did not occur—final inspection of facility several weeks away.  No ATCs open yet. The lawsuit against DOH for failure to implement the state’s MMP is progressing.  Suggestions include demonstrations at DOH with tombstones of dead NJ patients.

Adding qualifying conditions to NJ’s medical marijuana law—Board members’ efforts.

NJ Senator Nick Scutari introduced S1977 to decriminalize 50 grams of marijuana.  Fall committee hearing upcoming?  (NJ Assembly passed A1465--decrim for 15 grams--on 6/25/12.) 

Ed (NJWeedman) Forchion: Retrial for hung jury on distribution charge starts 10/16/12 at 8am.

Upcoming events: NJ State Nurses Assn. “Don Award” to Ken Wolski, RN for medical marijuana advocacy in Atlantic City on 10/24/12. NORML NJ meeting October 15th & November 12th at 7pm at the Ale House, New Brunswick, NJ.  Ewing Community Fest 10/6/12, thanks to Larry & Ed.  Lawrence Community Day 10/7/12 canceled due to weather.  ASA v. DEA oral arguments in federal court 10/16 followed by ASA’s 10th Anniversary benefit dinner in D.C.  NORML Conference, Los Angeles, 10/4-6/12, Ken was a speaker.  CMMNJ’s 10th anniversary upcoming
in March 2013.

Treasury report: Checking: $3163; PayPal: $3353.

CMMNJ meetings are the second Tuesday of each month from 7 - 9 PM at the Lawrence Library 
(Meeting at the library does not imply their endorsement of our issue.)  For more info: 

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA, Executive Director, Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey, Inc.
219 Woodside Ave., Trenton, NJ 08618   (609) 394-2137
CMMNJ, a 501(c)(3) public charity, is a non-profit educational organization.

Recent Media Coverage and Blogs:

‘The Fight Over Medical Marijuana’

New Jersey medical marijuana supply safe after Superstorm Sandy

Q&A with New Jersey Medicinal Marijuana Program Director

NJ medical marijuana: Tough road for patients to first ATC

On medical marijuana, state laws matter

N.J. issues first medical marijuana license

Department of Health Issues Permit to Operate to Greenleaf Compassion Center

Empowering Women Dual-Project

Medical marijuana center in Montclair to open before new year

Montclair Pot Dispensary: New Jersey's First Marijuana Storefront Lands Pot License

WHERE WE STAND: Stop the stalling on medical marijuana
Nearly three years past the law's passage, all six dispensaries should be approved.

PTSD Patient Challenges New Jersey Marijuana Laws


Colorado, Washington first states to legalize recreational pot

‘Weedman’ acquitted after using medical marijuana argument as his defense

Jury Nullification Keeps NJ Weedman Out of Jail; DEA Comes Calling

Bridging the Knowledge Gap:  Nurses in Support of Medical Cannabis

Opinion: Marijuana ballot initiatives in other states could provide N.J. with direction

Obama, What About "Free and Open Scientific Inquiry" for Medical Marijuana?

Should Grandma Smoke Pot? Final Cut - Legalize Marijuana

Medical Marijuana: No longer a pipe dream

Department of Health Issues Permit to Operate to Greenleaf Compassion Center

Greenleaf Compassion Center was issued a permit today by the Department of Health to operate as an Alternative Treatment Center (ATCs) and dispense medicinal marijuana. The permit was issued after a final Department inspection of its Montclair facility. Montclair officials also recently granted a certificate of occupancy to Greenleaf, clearing the way for the Department to grant its permit.

"This permit marks a significant step forward in the implementation of New Jersey's Medicinal Marijuana Program and allows Greenleaf Compassion Center to begin dispensing medicinal marijuana to qualified patients," said New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd. "The Department is working with all ATCs to ensure the program serves patients safely and securely."

Patients and caregivers will receive identification cards this week from the Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP). Greenleaf will contact patients to schedule an appointment in the order in which patients registered. Patients and caregivers must bring their MMP identification card with them to the appointment.

Approximately 320 patients have either registered with the program or are in the process of completing registration, while more than 175 physicians have registered.

"This is a new product. Patients may want to make a limited purchase initially until they know which of the three available varieties best meets their needs," Commissioner O'Dowd said. ATCs can also provide guidance to patients on ways to use the product without the harmful effects of smoking.

The other five Alternative Treatment Centers are in various stages of finalizing locations or background examinations of the principals of their organizations.

The Department opened the patient registry in August. The registration process is available on the Department's Medicinal Marijuana webpage, which includes a checklist on how to register, answers to frequently asked questions and an option to submit questions via the website to customer services representatives.

Patients interested in registering should ask their doctor if he or she has signed up or would be willing to participate. If their physician is not interested-patients can check on the Department's Medicinal Marijuana webpage for physicians who have registered. The webpage provides a physician listing by county.

A Customer Service Unit is available to assist patients, caregivers and physicians in the registration process. The customer service line, (609) 292-0424, is open from 8 am to 5pm Monday through Friday.

For answers to frequently asked questions, please visit