Compassionate Use Act Would Allow Seriously Ill to Access Medical Marijuana With a Doctor's Recommendation <br> Patients, Doctors and Advocates Express Optimism as Assembly Considers Issue for First Time
Trenton--For the first time, the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee will hold a hearing on Assembly Bill 804 (The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act) scheduled for Thursday, May 22 at 10:00 a.m. The hearing will take place in Committee Room 16 on the fourth floor of the Statehouse Annex.
The bill would allow patients suffering from certain debilitating and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. Medical marijuana has proven efficacious for relief from nausea stemming from chemotherapy, muscle spasms, chronic pain, loss of appetite and wasting syndrome. Patients would also need to register with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. When approved, they would receive registration cards indicating that they are legally allowed to possess and use medical marijuana.
Roseanne Scotti, Director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey expressed optimism regarding the upcoming hearings. "We hope New Jersey will become the thirteenth state to allow for access to medical marijuana. The Compassionate Use Act has strong support among New Jerseyans. People want to know that if they or a loved one had a serious illness and were suffering that they would have every option for relieving that suffering."
Assembly Bill 804 is sponsored by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris), Thomas P. Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic) and Assemblywomen Joan M. Voss (D-Bergen), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), Connie Wagner (D-Bergen), and Shelia Y. Oliver (D-Essex, Passaic). Assemblymen Gusciora, explained the need for the legislation. "I'm extremely pleased that this bill is getting the recognition it deserves and has begun its way through the legislative process. It does not make sense for many of New Jersey's citizens to suffer when there is a viable way to ease their pain. There are already 12 other states that permit the use of medical marijuana and in these states there has been no increase in general drug use. There are thousands of ill people in the State that hope New Jersey joins that list in the near future."
Assemblyman Carroll, from the opposite side of the aisle, echoed Gusciora's strong support for the legislation. "If you can go to your doctor and get a derivative of the poppy to treat pain, why can't you get a derivative of the cannabis plant to treat your symptoms? There is no such thing as an evil plant. If a doctor using his or her best medical judgment thinks marijuana is the best thing for the patient, he or she should be allowed to [recommend] it."
On June 8, 2006, the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee held an informational hearing on Senate Bill 119, sponsored by Senators Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union), Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), Sandra B. Cunningham (D-Hudson) and Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union). Television personality Montel Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, appeared alongside other advocates of medical marijuana to testify before the committee in support of the "Compassionate Use" legislation. A poll released at the same time, conducted by the polling company, inc., found that 86 percent of New Jerseyans support medical marijuana access for the seriously ill.
Advocates are looking forward to the opportunity to express their support for A804. Don McGrath, whose son--a cancer patient who suffered from wasting syndrome--found medical marijuana drastically improved his quality of life during his battle, was delighted to learn that the Assembly would be holding informational hearings similar to those he testified at in the Senate nearly two years ago. "I feel strongly that if elected officials listen with open minds to real situations like we had to deal with, the bill would be much closer to becoming law." Gerry McGrath, a registered nurse and Sean's mother and caregiver, plans to testify on how she saw first-hand how medical marijuana helped her son. "There is absolutely no doubt that marijuana extended Sean's life considerably and it should be legal for any patient that needs it to survive."
Scott Ward, a 24-year-old diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November 2006 while training for the Marine Corps Marathon, tried every legally prescribed medicine his doctors suggested while searching for relief from his symptoms, before he decided to try medical marijuana. Scott is anticipating sharing his life-altering experience with members of the health committee. "I had terrible muscle spasms, pain and nausea, which at times made it impossible for me to move or eat. I lost a dangerous amount of weight and decided to try marijuana as a last resort," said Scott. "The therapeutic effects were almost instantaneous and now that I use medical marijuana regularly, my quality of life has improved drastically. I am grateful to have regained a sense of normalcy."
Supporters of the legislation include the New Jersey State Nurses Association; the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians; the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization; the New Jersey League for Nursing; the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Southern NJ and Northern NJ chapters; and the American Civil Liberties Union.