TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Nicholas P. Scutari and Jim Whelan to legalize medical marijuana for those suffering from chronic and terminal diseases was approved by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee today by a vote of 8-1, with 2 abstentions.
“Through this bill, New Jersey is sending a message that compassion for the sick and dying is of paramount importance,” said Senator Scutari, D-Union, Middlesex and Somerset. “For those people suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses, who live in constant pain or are at death’s door, we must provide access to medical marijuana if it will help relieve their symptoms or give them a measure of comfort in their final hours. New Jersey gains no benefit from going after sick and dying people, who have run out of options and are otherwise law-abiding citizens.”
“I think we’ve reached a point where we can tell the difference between someone using marijuana for a recreational high and someone using marijuana to treat an existing and prolonged medical condition,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic, and a member of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “The purpose of this legislation is to give patients who are dealing with the symptoms of chronic and terminal disease a humane alternative to treat and control those symptoms. This bill is about decency and compassion for folks trying to find dignity and relief in the face of prolonged and terminal illnesses.”
The bill, S-119, entitled the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act,” would authorize the Department of Health and Senior Services to issue registry identification cards to qualifying patients who have been diagnosed by a licensed physician with whom they have an existing relationship, as having a “debilitating medical condition” to use medical marijuana. The registry card would contain the name, address and date of birth of the patient, the date of issuance and expiration of the card, photo identification of the cardholder, and other information that the Commissioner of Health specifies by regulation. A patient who possesses a registry card would not be subject to arrest, prosecution or penalty by State or local authorities for the medical use of marijuana.
The bill would also allow for the establishment, registration and administration of alternative treatment centers, entities which would acquire, possess, cultivate, manufacture, deliver or dispense marijuana or related supplies and educational materials to registered qualifying patients.
“Over the years, New Jersey has crafted some of the toughest anti-drug laws in the nation, and that’s appropriate when trying to keep kids off drugs,” said Senator Scutari. “However, we’re not talking about hardened criminals with this legislation, but the sick and dying State residents who have nowhere else to turn, and have exhausted all other treatment possibilities. This bill draws a distinction between recreational use and medicinal use when it comes to marijuana.”
Under the bill, the debilitating medical conditions which would authorize the prescription of medical marijuana include: cancer, glaucoma, positive HIV/AIDS status or other chronic, debilitating diseases or medical conditions that produce, or the treatment of which produces, wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasms. The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services would have the authority to include other medical conditions as it sees fit.
The bill would expressly prohibit anyone under the influence of marijuana from operating a motor vehicle, aircraft or motorboat, and prohibits the use of medical marijuana in a school bus or other form of public transportation, on school grounds, in any correctional facility, or at any public park, beach or recreational or youth center.
“More than a dozen states around the nation have already stood up for compassion and the humane treatment of those suffering from chronic and terminal ailments,” said Senator Whelan. “Recently, on the federal level, the new US Attorney General has indicated that the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) will halt raids on state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries. New Jersey must move forward in the name of decency and empathy for those who have run out of treatment options for their medical conditions.”
The bill now heads to the full Assembly for consideration.