Assembly Health Committee Hearings on Medical Marijuana Produce Passionate Testimony

Press Release May 21, 2008
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti at 609-610-8243

Trenton, NJ–Informational hearings held by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee produced passionate testimony by medical marijuana patients and their families as well as an overview of the scientific research supporting medical marijuana. Two bills, A804 and S119 have been introduced in the New Jersey legislature. The bills would allow seriously ill patients to possess small amounts of medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The program would be administered by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.

“The hearings have been a wonderful opportunity for the members of the committee and other New Jersey legislators to get the information they need about the bill. The quality of the testimony was fantastic,” said Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. “But the bottom line is really about compassion. If you or someone you love is seriously ill and none of the available medications relieved the suffering, wouldn’t you want access to medical marijuana if a doctor recommended it? I don’t know many people who would say no and deny themselves or their loved one the chance for relief and improved quality of life.”

Assembly Bill 804 is sponsored by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris), Thomas P. Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic) and Assemblywomen Joan M. Voss (D-Bergen), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), Connie Wagner (D-Bergen), and Shelia Y. Oliver (D-Essex, Passaic). Assemblymen Gusciora and Assemblyman Carroll, prime sponsors of the legislation, testified before their colleagues on the health committee.

Dr. Denis Petro, internationally known expert on medical marijuana and author of numerous book chapters and journal articles on the subject explained the scientific support for medical marijuana.

“Medical marijuana is recognized by the medical community as a safe and effective alternative when conventional therapy is inadequate in serious and life-threatening disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord injury, AIDS and cancer,” said Petro, a board-certified neurologist in Pennsylvania with more than 25 years experience in neurology, clinical pharmacology and marijuana research.

Twelve states now have laws allowing seriously ill patients access to medical marijuana–Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington State.

The New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, the New Jersey League for Nursing, the New Jersey chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization all submitted testimony in support of Assembly Bill 804.

“Is it not sad enough that illness robs people of years with their loved ones? Do we need to compound that by denying patients access to a treatment that will not only alleviate their pain and nausea, but that can also stimulate their appetite, making them stronger, so that the days, weeks, or months they have left can be filled with memories and dignity? Medical marijuana is used very successfully in other states and in other countries.” said Nora Bertocci, a registered nurse and chair of the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, which works with sick and dying patients on a daily basis. “We should not be asking ‘why should we legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes?’ but rather ‘why shouldn’t we?’ ”

Passionate testimony was delivered by Scott Ward, a 24-year-old diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November 2006 while training for the Marine Corps Marathon, tried every legally prescribed medicine his doctors suggested while searching for relief from his symptoms, before he decided to try medical marijuana.

“To me it is unfortunate that I must be here today to fight for something as basic as the right to live a pain-free life. I want to be able to get out of bed in the morning not feeling terrible. That is what I use marijuana for. It is my medicine. It works for me,” said Ward to members of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.

After appearing nearly two years ago before the Senate in support of the Compassionate Use Act, longtime advocates Don and Gerry McGrath, parents of Sean McGrath, who was twenty-eight when he passed away from cancer in 2004, provided testimony today. After available medications failed to help Sean with his severe nausea and vomiting, one of his doctors suggested he try marijuana. Down to 98 pounds and desperate for relief, Sean tried some marijuana recommended “off the record” by his team of physicians. The relief was immediate the first time he used it.

“For the first time since he was diagnosed, Sean was able to eat something that didn’t come out of a tube,” said his mother Gerry. “His spirit and ours soared. As a registered nurse, a mother and a caregiver, I saw first-hand how medical marijuana helped our son.”

Because medical marijuana was the only medicine to provide Sean with relief, family and friends risked arrest to help provide him with relief. Don McGrath, Sean’s father, urged legislators to consider other families currently facing what his family faced.

“If any member of this committee or the Assembly had a child like my son Sean that needed medical marijuana to alleviate their suffering, I’m certain they would be in favor of this bill,” he said. “I would hope you never have such an experience but for the many people living in New Jersey that are going through it right now, I ask you to do what you know is right.”

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