NJ legislator wants to legalize medical marijuana

January 20, 2005

Bob Groves, New Jersey Record

A state senator who prosecutes drug abusers wants to legalize the 'compassionate medical use' of marijuana to treat pain and other symptoms in seriously ill patients.

Sen. Nicholas P. Scutari, D-Union, the Linden city prosecutor, has proposed legislation to protect people with debilitating medical conditions from arrest and prosecution for the use of medical marijuana.

New Jersey needs a law, similar to those in 11 other states, to attempt to preempt the federal ban on using medical marijuana, Scutari said Thursday.

'As a prosecutor, I see the detrimental effects of recreational marijuana,' Scutari said. 'However, marijuana has been shown in many cases to give people with debilitating medical conditions a chance to lead normal lives.'

The bill would let doctors authorize medical marijuana for patients with diseases - such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and AIDS - that cause chronic pain, seizures, severe nausea and wasting syndrome.

Patients certified by their doctors would be issued registration cards by the state permitting them to possess six plants or 1 ounce of marijuana. Parental written consent, and monitoring of marijuana use, would be needed for patients under age 18.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, who is preparing a similar bill, thinks it has a good chance of passing.

'The ironic thing is that morphine, a derivative of the poppy, is acceptable for use in last-stage illness,' but medicinal use of marijuana, which is a less potent drug, is illegal, he said.

Dr. Samyadev Datta of Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck would approve marijuana only for terminally ill patients.

'If I was with a cancer patient who was going to be dead in two months, I would tell her, 'Go ahead,'Ÿ' and smoke pot to relieve pain, said Datta, an anesthesiologist and director of the Pain Management Center at Holy Name. 'But somebody who has a bad back but will be alive for 30 years, I have a problem' approving marijuana use.

Datta approves of the use of Marinol, a tablet form of the marijuana chemical compound THC. But he concedes that the medication does not work as well as marijuana because the pill is not absorbed as effectively by the body.

The Medical Society of New Jersey, which has opposed marijuana in the past, called for more study of the issue, said John Shaffer, a spokesman.

Ken Wolski, a registered nurse and head of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, hailed the proposal.

'We think it's great,' Wolski said Thursday. 'It's actually a very conservative bill,' he said, noting that it forbids medicinal marijuana use in prisons, public parks and beaches, and while driving.

States that have authorized medicinal marijuana use with doctor approval are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

E-mail: groves@northjersey.com

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