Activists: Pot is a Drug of Compassion

November 20, 2005

Daniella Cheslow, The Times (Trenton, NJ)

Sean McGrath was a guitarist and performed in rock bands, but he was always a "straight edge" who stayed away from drugs. Yet, when he was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer and his regular drugs did not help his constant nausea, he began getting marijuana delivered to his house regularly in Brooklyn.

"It relaxed him to the point where he could take his pills," said his father, Don McGrath, of the Robbinsville section of Washington Township. "Marijuana doesn't cure things, but at least it helped him fight. It kept him alive for a year and a half."

Sean McGrath died last summer at 28 after living with the cancer for two years. Since then, his parents have joined the Coalition for Medical Marijuana - New Jersey (CMM-NJ) in the struggle to legalize medical marijuana use in New Jersey.

"It's very frustrating," said Don McGrath, 61. "The patients want it, the doctors want it, and there's a politician standing there saying, `You can't have it.' "

Last January, the CMM-NJ made a major stride when state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Linden, introduced the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which would remove the criminal penalties for patients who used the drug. During the gubernatorial campaign, both Gov. John Corzine and Douglas Forrester said in a radio debate that they would sign such a bill.

Tonight, the coalition will review the status of that bill - which is stalled for now - and discuss when the state might pass it. CMM-NJ, a group of about 20 members, will try to recruit more supporters at its first public meeting at the Lawrence Township Library from 7 to 9 p.m, CEO Ken Wolski said. McGrath will be a guest speaker.

The first state to legalize medical marijuana was California in 1996. Today, 10 states allow patients to smoke their way through terminal illnesses, and in Arkansas, advocates spoke in a legislative hearing Thursday on the positive effects of medical marijuana. Federal laws outlawing the drug remain in effect, however.

Wolski and Jim Miller, whose wife had multiple sclerosis, founded CMM-NJ in May 2003. Cheryl Miller had used marijuana to alleviate her muscle spasms and increase her appetite. She died in June 2003.

"There's a tremendous amount of support for medical marijuana," Wolski said. "People realize that no one should have to suffer pointlessly."

A registered nurse, Wolski pointed out that the New Jersey State Nurses Association recognized the safety and effectiveness of the drug in a 2002 resolution. He said he expects between 20 and 30 people at the meeting. For more information, go to www.cmmnj.org.



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