State senator wants to legalize marijuana for medical use

January 20, 2005

Tom Bell, Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. -- A state senator who is also a city prosecutor has introduced legislation that would legalize the use of marijuana in New Jersey as a pain reliever for those with debilitating medical conditions. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, would allow doctors to authorize medical marijuana use and give patients the right to possess up to one ounce of the drug or six plants. Those with diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, glaucoma and AIDS would be eligible.

'These conditions often times produce wasting syndrome, chronic pain, seizures and severe nausea, all of which have been shown to be alleviated by medical marijuana,' said Scutari, city prosecutor in Linden.

Scutari cited a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, which said research showed marijuana helped alleviate pain in those with debilitating conditions. Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington already have various laws that allow those with medical needs to use marijuana if they get a doctor's recommendation.

'New Jersey needs to join the effort to protect seriously ill people from criminal penalties for making their lives livable,' Scutari said. 'There are too many horrible stories of unbearable pain and suffering which don't have to be retold because a remedy to ease those burdens is available.'

One county prosecutor who serves as lawyer for several law enforcement groups said they would oppose the measure.

'This is strictly a first step to get in the door to legalize drugs in America,' said Terrence Farley, the first assistant prosecutor of Ocean County and counsel to the County Narcotics Strike Force Commanders Association and the New Jersey Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association.

Scutari's bill would require those under the age of 18 obtaining medical marijuana to get written consent from their parents. The measure would also forbid those under the influence of the drug to drive, or to use the drug on school buses or public transportation. Use would also be forbidden on school grounds and beaches, and in jails, public parks and recreation centers.

The Medical Society of New Jersey last examined the issue of medical marijuana use in 1998 and decided that more research was needed. John Shaffer, a spokesman for the society, said Friday that the organization's Council on Public Health was expected to take another look soon.

'They will come up with an opinion to see whether a revised policy would be appropriate,' Shaffer said.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, said there is bipartisan support in the state Legislature for legalizing medical marijuana use. Gusciora said he is working on an Assembly bill that is similar to Scutari's measure in the Senate.

'Medical marijuana has shown great promise,' Gusciora said Friday. 'Once you get past the political grandstanding, it would help alleviate a lot of suffering.'

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