Use of medical marijuana recommended to ease the pain

April 26, 2006

Ken Wolski, OpEd, Asbury Park Press (NJ)

The mission of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey is to bring about safe and legal access to marijuana for New Jersey patients who are under the care of licensed physicians. We believe no one should suffer needlessly, and no one should go to jail for following the advice of their doctor.

The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was introduced in the Assembly by Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, as A-933, and in the Senate by Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, as S-88.

This bill would remove the statewide penalties for possession, use and cultivation of a small amount of marijuana when it is recommended by a doctor.

New Jersey patients would still be subject to federal laws against marijuana, but this Compassionate Use Act would protect the vast majority of legitimate New Jersey medical marijuana users. Gov. Corzine has said he would sign a medical marijuana bill if it got to his desk.

Polls consistently show that 80 percent of New Jersey citizens support access to medical marijuana when it is recommended by a physician. These polls include an Eagleton poll from 2002 (82 percent), a Time/CNN poll from 2002 (80 percent) and an AARP poll from 2004 (79 percent).

In 2002, the New Jersey State Nurses Association overwhelmingly passed a resolution recognizing the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana and urging the legislators to pass a medical marijuana bill into law. An estimated 90 percent of New Jersey registered nurses — more than 90,000 strong — approve of medical marijuana. In 2003, the American Nurses Association passed a similar resolution.

Registered nurses — the most trusted profession in America — have a unique perspective in the health care field. They use their own eyes, ears and hands to assess patients. They are constantly assessing how patients are responding to therapeutic interventions. Their goals are to restore health, increase comfort, increase autonomy and prevent illness.

When nurses see the effectiveness of marijuana, when they see how marijuana relieves nausea and vomiting, how it relieves pain, how it relieves anxiety, how it relieves spasticity, how it relieves the wasting syndrome, and how it does so safely and with manageable side effects, it is no wonder they overwhelmingly approve of medical marijuana.

Access to medical marijuana is a patients' rights issue. It is the right of a patient to have access to the best possible treatment available. Our government has a long history of denying the fundamental rights of the American people. Denying access to a safe and effective medication is one more example of this.

The struggle for medical marijuana takes its place alongside the great struggles for civil liberties that this country has seen. Registered nurses in New Jersey are asking for public support in this struggle.

Opponents of medical marijuana say children won't understand the distinction between medical and recreational uses of marijuana. The medical treatment of patients who are dying of AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis should not be subject to what children understand. Health care professionals have an ethical obligation to put the needs of the patient first — not society's needs.

Anyway, the children do understand. In 1996, California passed the first Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. In 1997, teenage marijuana use in California went down. Medical marijuana use is not glamorous and does not increase teenage marijuana use. Indeed, teens have all the marijuana they want already. Nearly 50 percent of all high school kids try marijuana before they graduate. High school kids say that marijuana is easier to get than cigarettes or alcohol.

It is only legitimate patients who are denied access to marijuana because of our current laws. People like Roberta, a grandmother who suffers from a painful condition called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. She has pain that is so severe that she has made plans for suicide. She has seen where the opiates take her — the side effects of the massive doses that are required are as intolerable to her as the pain itself. There is no cure. She faces progressive, intractable pain.

She asked if marijuana might help her. It might. Marijuana is very effective for certain types of pain. Where would she get marijuana, she asked. Eleven different states and several foreign countries have laws similar to the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. But Roberta was not able or willing to leave her home.

Why would our federal government prefer Roberta to commit suicide rather than engage in a clinical trial of medical marijuana? Roberta and tens of thousands of other New Jersey patients need immediate access to medical marijuana. They need the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to pass into law.


Ken Wolski is executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, Trenton.

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