Local group seeks new marijuana law in NJ

November 30, 2005

Lea Kahn, Lawrence Ledger (NJ)

New Jersey would become the 11th state in the nation to allow the medicinal use of marijuana without fear of criminal penalties, if the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey has its way.
   California was the first state to allow marijuana to be used under strict guidelines for medicinal purposes, said Lawrence resident Ken Wolski, who is the chief executive officer of CMMNJ. California has been joined by Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, according to Mr. Wolski.
   State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) sponsored a bill in the state Senate earlier this year that would allow patients to use marijuana under strict regulations, but the bill stalled, said Mr. Wolski.
   CMMNJ, which is a volunteer-driven organization, would like the bill — titled the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act — to be reintroduced and adopted into law in 2006, Mr. Wolski said.
   If enacted, the law would allow a patient suffering from a debilitating medical condition — cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, or a chronic or debilitating disease whose treatment results in wasting, severe or chronic pain or nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms — to use marijuana to alleviate the symptoms.
   "The combination of cannabinoid drug effects — anxiety reduction, appetite stimulation, nausea reduction, and pain relief — suggests that cannabinoids would be moderately well suited for certain conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and AIDS wasting," according to a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine. The IOM is a component of the National Academy of Sciences.
   Under the bill, a patient and his or her caregiver would be issued an identification card by the state Department of Health and Human Services that permits the use of marijuana. The patient's physician would have to certify that marijuana is needed for medicinal purposes.
   "CMMNJ supports the bill 100 percent," said Mr. Wolski, who is a registered nurse. "There has to be a bona fide doctor/patient relationship. We are not in favor of legalizing marijuana. It is just for medicinal use. (But) it would be foolish for us not to recognize that we represent drug policy changes."
   Mr. Wolski, who is a health services manager in the state Department of Corrections, said he became "sensitized" to the medical uses of marijuana after he met James Burton, who had fled the United States for Holland after serving a one-year prison sentence for growing marijuana. The Dutch allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
   The two men met in a coffee shop in Amsterdam while Mr. Wolski was on vacation about 10 years ago. They struck up a conversation, and Mr. Burton explained that he had discovered marijuana was useful in combating his glaucoma, Mr. Wolski said. Intrigued by that information, Mr. Wolski said he researched the topic and found that marijuana does have medical uses.
   Mr. Wolski became acquainted with Jim and Cheryl Miller of Silverton in 2002. Ms. Miller, who had multiple sclerosis, used marijuana to cope with painful muscle spasms. Shortly before Ms. Miller died in 2003, Mr. Miller and Mr. Wolski joined forces and organized CMMNJ.
   CMMNJ is not the only group that favors allowing the plant to be used for medical purposes, he said. The New Jersey State Nurses Association and the American Nurses Association have adopted resolutions in favor of allowing marijuana to be used in medical settings, he said.
   "We are looking to build our coalition," Mr. Wolski said. "We think that the sooner we can stop patients from suffering needlessly, the better off they will be. There are between 30,000 and 80,000 patients in New Jersey who could be protected (from prosecution if the bill is adopted)."
   One of the frequently quoted arguments against allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes is that it will lead to the legalization of marijuana, Mr. Wolski said. But since California allowed marijuana to be used for medical purposes in 1996, neither California nor the other nine states have moved forward to decriminalize it, he said.
   Mr. Wolski also pointed out that the 10 states have made it legal to use marijuana for medical purposes, but federal law does not recognize that distinction. Persons who use or possess marijuana would still be subject to federal prosecution — although 99 percent of arrests are made under state laws, he said.
   While one component of marijuana has been synthesized under the name of Marinol since 1985, it has not proven to be as effective as marijuana, Mr. Wolski said. Marinol, which is administered in pill form, is intended to treat nausea — but it is difficult for a patient who is nauseous to keep down a pill, he said.
   "It is difficult to control the dosage (of Marinol) and it is expensive for the insurance companies," he said. "There are different delivery systems for marijuana. It can be eaten — made into brownies or cookies — and it can be smoked. It can be smoked until the patient achieves the desired effect."
   Pharmaceutical companies would have to use the entire marijuana plant — not just an extract — to prepare a drug that would mimic marijuana's effects, he said. But it would take many years and much money to produce a drug, he said. It likely won't happen in the next 10 years, he added.
   Canada has approved the use of Sativex, which is sprayed under the tongue, Mr. Wolski said. It is easy to regulate the dosage of Sativex, and it delivers all of the components of the marijuana plant — not just tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is one of the active ingredients in marijuana, he said.
   Mr. Wolski also pointed to the Institute of Medicine's 1999 study, which indicated that marijuana can be used for medical purposes.
   "The facts speak for themselves," he said. "It's almost irrational to oppose the medical use of marijuana. We are just trying to remove the sick and wounded from the battlefield of the war on drugs. That's what the bill would do."
   CMMNJ's next monthly meeting is scheduled for Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Lawrence Branch of the Mercer County Library System on Darrah Lane.


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