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.  


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