First-Ever Senate Floor Vote on NJ Medical Marijuana Legislation

Press Release February 19, 2009
Media Contact

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

New Jersey is yet another step closer to becoming the fourteenth state to allow safe access to medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation for qualifying patients. The State Senate will hold a floor vote on Monday, February 23 on Senate Bill 119 (The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act). The voting session is scheduled at 2 p.m. and will take place in the Senate Chambers.

Senate Bill 119 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 chemotherapy-induced nausea, muscle spasms, chronic pain, loss of appetite and wasting syndrome. Patients would need a recommendation from a doctor and 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.

“New Jerseyans overwhelmingly support this legislation,” said Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. “Polling has shown support running as high as 86 percent. This legislation is moving forward because legislators have heard the voices of constituents across the state. For the sake of our most vulnerable, our sick and dying patients struggling for relief, now is the time for New Jersey to join the growing list of states allowing compassionate use of 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,” Carroll said. “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 December 15, 2008, the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted S119 out of committee by a 6-1 margin and amended the legislation so it would allow for the licensing of centers where qualifying patients could safely access medical marijuana. Informational hearings on the Assembly companion bill, A804, were held on May 22, 2008 in the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee and a scheduled vote is pending.

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 thrilled that the entire Senate would be considering the important issue of medical marijuana. “If passing this bill could reduce the suffering of just one patient in New Jersey, it would be worthwhile and it would demonstrate the concern the Senate has for their most needy citizens.”

Dr. Denis Petro, an internationally known expert on medical marijuana who has testified before the legislature regarding the scientific support for medical marijuana, praised the New Jersey State Senate for scheduling a vote on the legislation.

“With passage of the legislation, patients with serious and life-threatening disorders can be offered a safe and effective alternative when conventional therapy is inadequate. The bill represents a positive step toward a rational policy regarding medical marijuana,” said Petro, a board-certified neurologist in Pennsylvania with more than 25 years experience in neurology, clinical pharmacology and marijuana research.

Nancy Fedder, a 61-year-old, who lives with her daughter and two grandchildren, is a retired computer programmer who has coped with multiple sclerosis for 16 years. She tried every legally prescribed medicine her doctors suggested while searching for relief from her symptoms, before she decided to try medical marijuana. Nancy is excited regarding the prospects of medical marijuana access in New Jersey. “I have struggled with terrible muscle spasms, pain and nausea, which at times was complicated by the side effects of my prescribed medications. However, after trying marijuana to treat my symptoms my quality of life drastically improved,” said Nancy. “I am so grateful that the Senate will be taking action on this important piece of legislation and 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."

Sign up for updates from DPA.