TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Nicholas P. Scutari and Jim Whelan to create an avenue of legality for medical marijuana for those suffering from chronic and terminal diseases was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 22-16.
“If medical marijuana can ease some of the suffering of a patient who’s dying from a chronic, severe or terminal disease, state government should not stand in the way of that relief,” said Senator Scutari (D-Union, Middlesex and Somerset). “This bill is about giving health care professionals options in treating their patients’ pain and suffering, and giving those patients a measure of dignity and comfort in facing a terminal disease. While we should rightfully maintain a tough stance on the recreational abuse of drugs, we must take a compassionate and humane approach to bringing relief to those patients who have nowhere else to turn.”
“A number of healthcare studies have highlighted the benefits of marijuana use in treating severe and potentially fatal diseases, and the side effects associated with the treatment of those diseases,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic, and a member of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “If this drug can bring relief where established methods of pain management have failed, we need to give doctors in this State the authority to prescribe it. We’re not talking about the legalization of pot, but rather about giving suffering New Jerseyans a small bit of comfort in what could be their final days.”
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, bona fide relationship, as having a “debilitating medical condition” and their primary caregivers, to use or administer medical marijuana. The registry card would contain the name, address and date of birth of the patient and caregiver, 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 or his or her caregiver who possesses a registry identification card and collectively possesses no more than six marijuana plants and one ounce of usable marijuana, would not be subject to arrest, prosecution or penalty by State or local authorities for the medical use of marijuana.
The bill, as amended, 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 or their registered caregivers.
“New Jersey’s tough anti-drug laws have pushed otherwise-law-abiding citizens seeking some measure of relief from their pain underground in search of that relief,” said Senator Scutari. “We shouldn’t be treating sick individuals looking for some small bit of comfort like criminals. This bill would remove some of the stigma associated with marijuana use as a legitimate medical option, and would allow patients with severe and debilitating medical conditions to focus on getting better, rather than on avoiding prosecution.”
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.
“Thirteen states have already stood up for compassion and decency in giving terminal patients the option of medical marijuana in treating their pain and suffering,” said Senator Whelan. “This bill strikes an appropriate balance between public safety and dignity and peace for patients who have exhausted every other option. We must do the human thing, and de-criminalize medical marijuana use for those who can benefit from it.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration. #