Press Release  | 03/04/2011

Department of Health to Hold Hearings Monday, March 7th on Draft Regulations for New Jersey's Medical Marijuana Program

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Patients, Families and Advocates Express Frustration with the Regulatory Process and Fear the Overly Restrictive Regulations Will Limit Adequate Access to Medical Marijuana

Trenton, NJ— On Monday, March 7th, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services will hold hearings for the public to present comments on the draft regulations proposed for New Jersey's medical marijuana program. The department originally released draft regulations to implement the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act in early October and canceled the public hearing initially scheduled for Dec. 6th. Subsequently, the department re-proposed new regulations with minor changes in late February beginning a new comment period. The draft regulations have been greeted with a chorus of criticism from patients, families and advocates for being too restrictive and possibly making the program unworkable.

The hearing will be held at 10AM in the Delaware River Room of the War Memorial located at 1 Memorial Drive in Trenton, NJ.

Advocates, patients and families criticize the unnecessary restrictions placed on the proposed medical marijuana program, the lack of responsiveness on behalf of the department, and the delay that might result from the increasingly contentious process.

"I hope that the department will listen to the concerns of patients and their families on Monday and make some common-sense changes to the proposed regulations," says Roseanne Scotti, Director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey which spearheaded the effort to pass the legislation. "The patients we work with have been heartbroken about the delays in implementing the program and the unnecessary restrictions that have been proposed. Now they will have a chance to voice their concerns in person. "

Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), the prime sponsors of the Compassionate Use Act, have introduced resolutions SCR130, SCR 140, and ACR151 declaring that certain provisions of the draft regulations are inconsistent with the Compassionate Use Act and violate the legislative intent of the Act.

Patients and families, who were involved in five years of intense advocacy and testified before the legislature when the original bill passed, grow increasingly more disappointed with the regulatory process, worry that their concerns are not being addressed, and fear that problems with the regulations will make the program unworkable and further delay the implementation of the program.

"These proposed regulations, which have unjustifiably taken more than a year since the law's passage to be issued, go far beyond the already strict limits spelled out in the legislation," says Don McGrath, whose son Sean who died from a rare form of cancer several years ago and used medical marijuana to relieve the symptoms of his disease. "We already had the strictest law in the country. I don't see how the program will be workable with these restrictions."

"I have written to the Department, the Governor, the Legislature and with the help of my aides made the long trip to Trenton numerous times to voice my concerns on these harmful regulations, yet I feel my voice is not being heard," says Diane Rivera Riportella, who suffers from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. "Most of the major problems with the regulations have not been changed. I'm hoping the department will be more receptive on Monday and commit to drafting regulations that are more responsive to patients suffering like myself. Lou Gehrig's disease is taking my life away quickly and patients like me need to have access to medical marijuana now."

While advocates, patients and families are opposing many unnecessary restrictions in the regulations, the restrictions below are the most onerous:

  • The draft regulations prohibit home delivery of medical marijuana (although was originally permitted in the first version of the department's proposed rules and then removed). Because many medical marijuana patients have severely limited mobility and, under the law, can have only one caregiver who can pick up their medicine for them, home delivery would have removed a huge burden from patients and caregivers.
  • The draft regulations limit the amount of THC that any strain of medical marijuana can have to 10 percent. There was no such limit in the original legislation, no other state imposes such a limit, nor is there any basis in science or medicine for this restriction. Arbitrarily limiting the amount of THC will limit the relief that can be provided by the medical marijuana in New Jersey.
  • The draft regulations allow for only three strains of medical marijuana to be grown at the ATCs. There was no such limit in the original legislation, no other state imposes such a limit, nor is there any basis in science or medicine for this restriction. To the contrary, there are many strains of medical marijuana and the various strains provide different types of relief for different symptoms (e.g. pain, nausea, muscle spasms). Arbitrarily limiting the number of strains produced will limit the relief that can be provided by the medical marijuana in New Jersey.
  • The draft regulations unnecessarily delay the consideration of adding other medical conditions and treatments for the program, by requiring the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services to wait until the department has completed at least two annual reports on the law to the Governor and the Legislature. The law did not include this waiting period and no purpose is served by arbitrarily mandating that patients who might benefit from medical marijuana wait for two years in order to petition to have their conditions added to the list of qualifying conditions.

The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act is supported by a coalition of organizations including the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, the New Jersey League for Nursing, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the New Jersey chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Faith is Our Pathway and the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti at 609-610-8243

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