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 Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today by a vote of 6-1, with 2 abstentions.
“It is the definition of basic human decency that we do whatever we can to ease the pain and suffering of people living with severe chronic and terminal diseases,” said Senator Scutari, D-Union, Middlesex and Somerset. “When all other avenues of currently-approved pain relief have been exhausted, we need to give doctors the freedom to prescribe medical marijuana to give their patients a measure of comfort and dignity in the face of their debilitating diseases. This bill is about the most humane, compassionate option for those State residents who have nowhere else to turn in managing their illnesses.”
“This bill is not about legally-accessible pot for recreational use, but providing a measure of relief to people suffering from severe and potentially fatal diseases,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic, and a member of the Health Committee. “Many legitimate health care studies have shown the benefits of marijuana in coping with chronic and terminal diseases, and the symptoms associated with treatment of these diseases. If marijuana could provide at least the possibility of comfort for patients who have exhausted every other option, we have a responsibility as a moral society to give them that option.”
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.
“When we talk about medical marijuana, we’re not talking about hardened criminals looking to get a buzz,” said Senator Scutari. “We’re not talking about drug dealers looking to profit off the weaknesses or addictions of others. We’re talking about otherwise-law-abiding citizens who have no other treatment options, and who have found some measure of relief and comfort from the smoking of marijuana. We should not treat these folks as criminals, and should take some of the stigma off taking marijuana for medicinal purposes.”
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.
“Right now, 14 states have done the compassionate thing and have approved some form of medical marijuana legislation,” said Senator Whelan. “This bill attempts to balance public safety and legality with dignity and respect for suffering patients in the Garden State. New Jersey must do the morally right thing and de-criminalize the medical use of marijuana for those who can benefit from the drug.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.