Friday, March 9, 2018

Legislative testimony supporting marijuana reform

Testimony in support of Legalizing, Taxing and Regulating Marijuana for Adults in New Jersey

by: Ken Wolski, RN, MPA

March 5, 2018

Assembly Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee:
Danielsen, Joe - Chair   
Houghtaling, Eric - Vice-Chair 
Dancer, Ronald S.   
Lopez, Yvonne   
Quijano, Annette   
Rumpf, Brian E.

Chairman Danielsen and committee members, thank you for the opportunity to testify before this committee in support of legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana for adults in New Jersey.

I am Ken Wolski, RN, MPA, the Executive Director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc. (CMMNJ). I have included my resume in the packet of information that I am presenting to each member of this committee. Briefly, I have practiced as a registered nurse (RN) for over 40 years in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including over 25 years with the State of New Jersey, and seven years as an ICU/CCU nurse in Central Jersey and Center City Philadelphia. I also worked as a Public Health Nurse in the City of Trenton.

I co-founded CMMNJ in 2003. CMMNJ is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization and public charity that provides education about the benefits of safe and legal access to medical marijuana. CMMNJ was instrumental in getting the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act introduced into the state legislature in 2005, and passed into law in 2010.

For the past eight years, CMMNJ has been struggling to meaningfully implement this law in the face of the many delays and roadblocks that were put in place by the previous administration.

We were very pleased the Governor Murphy signed Executive Order #6 on January 23, 2018 that directed the Department of Health (DOH) and the Board of Medical Examiners to review the Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP) and make recommendations to expand it and ease access to it.

I was especially pleased that the DOH reached out to me for a meeting to discuss the future of the NJ MMP. I had a meeting with DOH Principal Deputy Commissioner Jackie Cornell on 2/28/18, along with Dr. David L. Nathan, the founder of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. I discussed with Deputy Commissioner Cornell my list of “Regulatory and Legislative Recommendations for the New Jersey Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP),” a copy of which I have presented to this committee. The regulatory issues can be dealt with through the DOH, but the legislative issues of course, must be dealt with by the legislature. Therefore I invite you to review these recommendations and I am available to answer questions about them, either now or at any time in the future.

Also in the packet of information I submitted is:

  • A press release on the importance of home cultivation for MMP patients;
  • An Op Ed I wrote urging the use of marijuana edibles in state institutions to improve healthcare and save 10’s of millions of dollars each year; and,
  • Summaries of three bills currently in the legislature to improve the MMP: S 997, a bill to make marijuana the equal of any other drug, A 1838, a bill to protect MMP patients from adverse employment actions, and A 1856, a bill to expand the role of caregivers in the state.

I know the focus of this committee’s hearing is adult use of marijuana, but our organization has always believed that before we can discuss broader legalization of marijuana, we must first protect the sick and injured who need marijuana medically. We must remove from the battlefield of the War on Drugs, the sick and injured—it’s the humane thing to do.

In fact, for the first 11 years of CMMNJ’s existence, our Board took no position on the broader legalization of marijuana—we neither supported it nor opposed it.

In 2011, the board of CMMNJ endorsed bills in the New Jersey Legislature that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. CMMNJ took this action because the MMP was dysfunctional — not a single patient in New Jersey had received legal medical marijuana in the two years since the bill passed into law, and patients continued to be arrested and imprisoned in the state for using marijuana to treat their medical conditions, even some patients who had MMP ID cards. Moreover, countless patients who could benefit from medical marijuana, would continue to be disqualified from participating in the MMP for the foreseeable future.

In 2014, the CMMNJ board realized that decriminalization, which only protects patients from arrest, is not an adequate solution. Decriminalization still penalizes desperately ill patients for using their medicine. Moreover, decriminalization depends on and supports illegal sources of marijuana, and this marijuana is of questionable quality and limited variety. This simply does not meet the needs of the numerous patients who could benefit from marijuana therapy in New Jersey.

These patients need a consistent and reliable source of marijuana, in a wide variety of preparations, for illnesses that may well last a lifetime. Many patients and their families are fleeing New Jersey — they are becoming medical refugees — in order to obtain adequate treatment with types and preparations of marijuana that are only available out of state. Colorado’s orderly implementation of a system of taxed and appropriately regulated marijuana — free of unreasonable federal interference — shows that we can do the same in New Jersey and meet the needs of all the medical marijuana patients in this state.

CMMNJ endorsed legalization of marijuana in New Jersey in January 2014.* CMMNJ believes that ending cannabis prohibition is the best way to get the right medicine to the most people.

The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA) passed into law in January 2010, yet only about 15,000 patients have received ID cards from the Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP), in a state with almost nine million people. Hundreds of thousands of people in New Jersey could benefit from marijuana therapy—perhaps a million or more. Garden State residents have a one in three chance of a cancer diagnosis and a one in three chance of chronic pain at some time in their lives. Moreover, we all die, and marijuana can help with some of the typical symptoms associated with terminal illness better than any other drug. Legalizing marijuana for adults would make it more like an over-the-counter drug, and less like a prescription drug, that is now prohibitively expensive for so many patients in the state. Legalizing marijuana will make medical marijuana like aspirin--a drug any adult can buy in a local store, without going to a doctor every couple of months for a recommendation, or having to go to one of only five Alternative Treatment Centers in the state to pick it up.

But CMMNJ also recognizes the failure of the current policy of marijuana prohibition, the harm to society that marijuana prohibition causes, and the disproportionate racial impact of this policy. Colorado has demonstrated that there are many financial and social benefits that can be anticipated from legalization, taxation and regulation of marijuana for adults.

Included in your packets of information is a 2-page report from Peter Rosenfeld, a CMMNJ Board member who provides a response to concerns about increased teen use with legalization, driving and other automobile issues, increased crime, and home cultivation.

My senator, Shirley Turner from the 15th District, said in a letter to me that she was “reluctant to support the legalization of marijuana due to my strong concerns about the message that the legalization of a mind-altering drug sends to our children” among other concerns. I have addressed a number of her concerns (increased potency of marijuana, the Gateway theory, drugged driving in Colorado, etc.) in my reply letter to Senator Turner, which I have included a copy of in the packet of information to this committee.

In my letter, I discuss the unique perspective I had on our country’s experiment in mass incarceration. When I started working for the NJDOC in 1984, there were 9,000 inmates in the state system. When I retired from the NJDOC in 2006, there were 27,000 inmates in the state system (86% of them were Black or Hispanic, which I attributed to Institutional Classism, not Institutional Racism). In the 22 years that I worked at the DOC, the inmate population tripled. I saw firsthand the negative impact this policy has had on our society. In short, it is not possible to incarcerate your way out of a drug problem. Drug abuse is a health issue. It should be dealt with by the Health Department, and through honest education, not government indoctrination. The Criminal Justice System only makes the problem worse.

The culture of prohibition is unable to establish reasonable regulations regarding cannabis use. For example, it makes no sense to say minors should not use marijuana if you are saying at the same time that adults are also forbidden from using marijuana. It makes no sense to forbid marijuana use while driving a car, if marijuana use is also forbidden while not driving a car. With legalization of marijuana in New Jersey, we have the opportunity to create reasonable regulations regarding marijuana age restrictions, and use restrictions, that residents will be more likely to adhere to.

Also in your packets I have also included a CMMNJ press release about the upcoming national “Patients Out of Time” (POT) conference that is coming to Jersey City May 10 – 12, 2018. The theme of this year’s conference is “Cannabis: Alleviates Pain, Treats Addiction.”

POT conferences bring together some of the top marijuana researchers from across the country and from around the world. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about the science of marijuana/cannabis, and how marijuana actually works in the human body. The emerging science of the Endocannabinoid System is only about 25 years old. Only 13% of the medical schools in the country even mention this important system that interacts with all the other systems in the body. But the science surrounding this system is indisputable and exciting new discoveries are made every year. Dr. Jahan Marcu, one of the top researchers in this field, said, “The future of therapeutics depends heavily on understanding this system.”

CMMNJ’s brochure on the Endocannabinoid System, “How your body is built for cannabis” is included in CMMNJ’s packet of information to this committee.

CMMNJ endorses a system of affirmative action in the newly emerging legal marijuana industry for the communities that have been most devastated by the decades-long war on marijuana—the inner cities. The legal marijuana industry will provide ample new employment opportunities. Minority residents in the inner cities must not be excluded from this emerging industry, but instead should be given preference in this industry, at a minimum in terms of opportunities in the inner cities. Assemblywoman Quijano, I look forward to seeing a copy of your bills that include provisions for automatic expungement for marijuana offenses, and tax breaks for marijuana businesses in Urban Enterprise Zones.

In closing, I’d like to say that we do not need to “slow down” our march towards social justice in New Jersey. We do not need to slow down our efforts to end the destructive, ineffective and counterproductive War on Marijuana. We need to speed these efforts up.

CMMNJ is grateful for the leadership shown by Governor Murphy and other elected officials on this issue. CMMNJ welcomes the coming legalization, taxation and regulation of marijuana for adults in New Jersey.

Sincerely yours,

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

* “Opinion: N.J. should legalize, tax and regulate marijuana,” Wolski, K., The Times of Trenton, 1/24/14.

CMMNJ, a 501(c)(3) public charity, provides education about the benefits of medical marijuana.

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