Advocates push for medical marijuana use

January 18, 2005

Terrence Dopp, Gloucester County Times

TRENTON -- In a move anti-drug activists called counterproductive to their cause, advocates renewed their quest Tuesday to legalize medicinal marijuana in New Jersey.

The legalization calls came moments after the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey touted successes in fighting teen use of illicit drugs by enhancing communication between parents and children.

Some researchers and supporters of prescription cannabis argue it can cure glaucoma, ease the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis and reverse 'wasting disorders' such as cancer and AIDS.

Legislation is pending in the Senate and Assembly that would legalize a medical form of marijuana if prescribed by physicians to patients with those diseases or other conditions that left them with severe and chronic pain or nausea. Eligible patients would need to enroll in a state registry of those with access to the drug.

Officials with the administration of acting Gov. Richard Codey put up opposition to the proposal.

'It is counter to what we're trying to do, but until we read the bill it would be foolhardy for us to say we are for it or against it,' said Joseph Miele, chairman and founder of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, as well as the chairman of the Governor's Council On Alcoholism And Drug Abuse.

Codey has also come out against the proposal, dubbed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.

Currently, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Montana have passed medicinal marijuana laws; the federal government has opposed all of them.

Ken Wolski, director of the New Jersey Coalition for Medical Marijuana, said the federal government has been 'irrationally opposed' to such laws, resistance he called cruel to those suffering from serious diseases.

'These patients are suffering without it. It can save lives and it can prolong lives,' said Wolski, a registered nurse of 30 years. 'It's really criminal to prevent its use.'

In November the American Association of Retired Persons released results of a telephone survey that found three-quarters of Americans 45 or older support administering medical marijuana. In the Northeast, 79 percent of respondents told AARP that they support edificial initiatives.

Assemblyman Robert Smith, a municipal prosecutor who often deals with drug-related cases, said he is in favor of allowing some medicinal use of tablets containing tetrahydrocannabinol, the drug's active ingredient.

Smith said he could see why Miele and others see it is a double standard but is not swayed by that argument.

Doctors can administer addictive medications such as Oxycontin and Percoset, he said, adding both can be dangerously misused.

'As a prosecutor, I don't have kids in court who are shoplifting to support a marijuana problem. It's typically heroin and cocaine. That's not to downplay the seriousness of the illegal use of marijuana,' said Smith, D-4 of Washington Township.

'It has the potential of having a conflicting message but physicians are presently prescribing drugs ... that are a lot more addictive.'

Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon/Warren, said he does not hold high prospects for legalized THC clearing the Legislature.

'I don't believe there will be a great deal of support within the Republican caucus,' Lance said. 'I'm reluctant to legalize marijuana. But I would be willing to listen.'

No hearings or debate on the bill has been scheduled in either house of the Legislature.

According to the partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, parents in the Garden State with a 12- to 15-year-old child reported speaking to them about drugs at least 25 times in the past year.

These talks are often spurred by advertisements warning of the dangers posed to youngsters by drugs and alcohol, according to the partnership.

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