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Scutari Bill To Amend New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Law Clears Judiciary Panel

Would Promote Access to Medical Marijuana By Severely Ill Children

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas P. Scutari to amend the state’s medical marijuana law in order to promote access to children with severe illnesses was approved today by the committee. Senator Scutari was the prime sponsor of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which was signed into law in 2010.

The Senator introduced the bill in response to efforts by a Union County couple to obtain what could be life-saving treatment for their 2-year-old daughter, who is suffering from Dravet syndrome, a severe and rare form of epilepsy that anti-seizure medicine does not control. Marijuana has been helpful in preventing most seizures in a number of children with the illness in Colorado and California, according to The Star-Ledger which first reported the family’s story. The senator’s bill would require that minors be subject to the same requirements as adults to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program. The measure is intended to remove barriers to treatment faced by children such as 2-year-old Vivian Wilson, who had her first seizure at two months old.

“Our medical marijuana law was crafted with the intent to help ease the suffering of our residents caused by these kinds of debilitating conditions. That this family, which has received a recommendation from a doctor, is unable to obtain care for their child is unacceptable,” said Senator Scutari (D-Union). “We have to ensure that our program is not so restrictive that those who are eligible, and have received a referral to participate, are prevented from getting the treatment they deserve. That includes children who have been inflicted with a debilitating medical condition, or any illness that is covered by our law.”

Signed in January 2010, the state’s medical marijuana law – designated the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act – created one of the strictest programs in the nation. Regulations adopted by the state Department of Health and Senior Services and the Board of Medical Examiners further restricted the state program. The bill would preempt regulations adopted by the state Board of Medical Examiners in October 2011 which require that a physician seeking to authorize the medical use of marijuana by a minor obtain written confirmation from a pediatrician and a psychiatrist establishing, in their professional opinions, that the patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefits from the medical use of marijuana.

The bill (S-2842) would require that minors be subject to the same requirements as adults when seeking to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program, except that a parent or guardian must receive an explanation of the potential risks and benefits of the medical use of marijuana, and must grant permission for the child’s medical use of marijuana. Currently, adults are required to obtain certification from a physician with whom they have a bona fide physician-patient relationship, meaning the relationship has existed for at least a year, the physician has seen the patient for the debilitating medical condition on at least four occasions or the physician assumes responsibility for providing management and care of the patient’s debilitating medical condition after a review of medical history and physical examinations.

The legislation would also permit the distribution of medical marijuana in dried form, oral lozenges, topical formulations, or edible form, or another form permitted by the Commissioner of Health. Current regulations prohibit marijuana from being dispensed in the edible form, which in some cases may be the most appropriate form for a young child to receive treatment. Additionally, the bill would remove restrictions on the number of strains of marijuana that can be cultivated by alternative treatment centers under the program.

To date, no minors have received medical marijuana through the program, in part because of a lack of formal recommendations by pediatricians and psychiatrists for the medical use of marijuana by minors. The Star-Ledger reported that Vivian Wilson, the 2-year-old from Scotch Plains, met the eligibility requirements for the state’s medical marijuana program but that her parents, Brian and Meghan Wilson, have been unable to obtain the certification from a psychiatrist necessary for their child to participate. The family has already taken numerous steps to help prevent seizures. According to the report, the child wears an eye patch during the day and is kept from direct sunlight; she is on a special diet and medication; and striped or brightly colored clothing or objects have been hidden or removed from the home. The family is seeking treatment for their daughter with marijuana that is provided in capsule form or added to food, which has proven effective for children in other states. The legislation is intended to help facilitate access to potentially beneficial treatment for children in New Jersey with Dravet Syndrome and other debilitating conditions.

“The Wilson family has gone to extraordinarily lengths to relieve the pain and suffering their 2-year-old has had to endure. If medical marijuana will help to control the seizures that their toddler is continuing to experience, then providing it is the compassionate and the appropriate thing to do,” said Senator Scutari. “This bill will remove the hurdles created by state regulations to ensure that those who are eligible for our program under the law and in need of relief can get the care they deserve.”

The bill was approved by a vote of 8-3. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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