First-Ever Committee Vote on NJ Medical Marijuana Legislation

Press Release December 9, 2008
Media Contact

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

Trenton–The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee will take its first vote on medical marijuana legislation, Senate Bill 119 (The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act), scheduled for Monday, December 15th at 9:30 a.m. The hearing will take place in Committee Room 11 on the fourth floor of the Statehouse Annex.

The bill would allow patients suffering from certain debilitating and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. Medical marijuana has proven efficacious for relief from nausea stemming from chemotherapy, muscle spasms, chronic pain, loss of appetite and wasting syndrome. Patients would need to register with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. When approved, they would receive registration cards indicating that they are allowed to legally possess and use medical marijuana.

“This legislation is about compassion and common sense,” said Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. “People want to know that if they or a loved one had a serious illness and were suffering that they would have every option for relieving that suffering. We hope that New Jersey will join the other 13 states that allow for access to medical marijuana.”

Senate Bill 119 is sponsored by Senators Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union), Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), Sandra B. Cunningham (D-Hudson), Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), Brian P. Stack (D-Hudson), Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Salem, Cumberland, Gloucester), Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), and Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex). Senator Scutari explained the need for the legislation.

“It is time that we adopt a policy on medical marijuana that reflects both our values and the facts,” said Sen. Scutari (D-Union). “I strongly believe that we have a moral obligation not to stand in the way of relief for people who are painfully suffering from chronic and debilitating illnesses. My bill, the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, is a common sense measure that places a premium on treatment and relief.”

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris), one of the primary sponsors of the companion bill in the Assembly, echoed Scutari’s strong support for the legislation. “If you can go to your doctor and get a derivative of the poppy to treat pain, why can’t you get a derivative of the cannabis plant to treat your symptoms? There is no such thing as an evil plant. If a doctor using his or her best medical judgment thinks marijuana is the best thing for the patient, he or she should be allowed to [recommend] it.”

On May 22, 2008 the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee held an informational hearing on Assembly Bill 804. The informational hearing was similar to that which was held on June 8, 2006, by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. Television personality Montel Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, appeared alongside other advocates of medical marijuana to testify before the committee in support of the “Compassionate Use” legislation. A poll released at the same time, conducted by the polling company, inc., found that 86 percent of New Jerseyans support medical marijuana access for the seriously ill.

Advocates are looking forward to New Jersey moving in the direction of Compassionate Use legislation. Don McGrath, whose son–a cancer patient who suffered from wasting syndrome–found medical marijuana drastically improved his quality of life during his battle, was delighted to learn that the Senate would be holding the first ever voting hearings on medical marijuana. “I strongly believe that once members of the Senate Health Committee listen objectively to stories like ours on Monday, they will vote yes on the bill, bringing it closer to becoming law and help those currently suffering in New Jersey.”

Gerry McGrath, a registered nurse and Sean’s mother and caregiver, plans to testify on how she saw first-hand how medical marijuana helped her son. “There is absolutely no doubt that marijuana extended Sean’s life considerably and it should be legal for any patient that needs it to survive.”

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. Scott is excited regarding the prospects of medical marijuana access in New Jersey. “I have lived with terrible muscle spasms, pain and nausea, which at times made it impossible for me to move or eat. However, after trying marijuana to treat my symptoms my quality of life drastically improved,” said Scott. “I am so happy that the Senate Health Committee will be taking action on this important piece of legislation and can only hope that they vote in support of seriously ill patients like me.”

Supporters of the legislation include the New Jersey State Nurses Association; the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians; the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization; the New Jersey League for Nursing; the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Southern NJ and Northern NJ chapters; and the American Civil Liberties Union.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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