A compassionate solution

June 07, 2006

Nicholas P. Scutari, Op/Ed, The Record (NJ)

I believe that we have a simple moral obligation to ensure that relief is available to those who are suffering. It was this belief that led me to sponsor Senate Bill 88, "The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act."

S-88 establishes a clear policy for determining who is eligible to use medical marijuana. In order to obtain a medical marijuana registration card from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, the patient must have a debilitating disease or medical condition resulting in wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasms. This includes people with symptoms common among persons with AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, or glaucoma.

The patient would have to obtain written certification from a physician with whom he or she has a long-standing, bona fide relationship that alternate methods of treating the illness or disorder have been unsuccessful.

Once registered, patients would be permitted to possess and grow small quantities of marijuana for medicinal purposes. They would then be protected from prosecution by the state and its local jurisdictions.

While participants would still be subject to arrest and prosecution for violating federal law, it should be noted that roughly 99 percent of marijuana-related arrests are made by state and local law enforcement agencies. S-88 would be a fairly comprehensive shield.

Flawed opposition

Opponents make two basic arguments against medical marijuana. The first is that medical marijuana is a stepping stone that leads inevitably to legalization. This assertion is preposterous: cocaine and morphine are both legally available for medical use, and yet no one suggests that this has created an air of permissiveness about these dangerous drugs.

The second argument is that there is no need for medical marijuana due to the availability of marijuana-synthetics such as Marinol. This is untrue: many Marinol users complain that the drug is merely disorienting without bringing effective pain relief. Additionally, Marinol does little to relieve nausea or increase appetite, two applications at which marijuana excels.

Medical marijuana will not be the first option for treatment, but an additional option available to chronically and terminally ill patients with a doctor's consent. By adopting S-88, New Jersey would join the growing group of diverse states from Maine to Montana that have put aside politics and put the needs of suffering citizens first.

We owe it to our friends, our family and ourselves to establish a humane policy that places a premium on treatment and relief.

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