Trenton, NJ — New Jersey’s medical marijuana law, the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, becomes effective this Friday, October 1st. The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services will then have 90 days to adopt regulations to implement the Act. The law passed in January after five years of intense advocacy by patients, families and advocates. The legislation will allow patients suffering from certain debilitating and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis to use and possess medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The bill will also allow for the licensing of Alternative Treatment Centers where qualifying patients could safely access medical marijuana. The program will be administered by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.
Patients, families, and advocates have been eagerly awaiting the public release of the regulations and urging the Department of Health and Senior Services to meet the law’s deadline.
“We would appreciate it if they acted quickly on this because every day that goes by we are suffering without our medicine,” says Diane Rivera Riportella, who suffers from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. “People like myself with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is taking my life away quickly, we need to have access to medical marijuana now. Without the program being in effect, medical marijuana is difficult and dangerous to get. If it was one of their own family members, a parent or a child, would they take so long to create the regulations?”
Earlier this year, Governor Chris Christie asked for a six-month to one-year delay in implementing the legislation. Ultimately, the legislature passed an amendment which allowed for a three-month extension. Even this delay caused concern among patients, families and advocates.
“There are many seriously ill people in New Jersey waiting for the relief this important program will provide,” said Roseanne Scotti, Director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. “We know the Department of Health and Senior Services has been working on the regulations, and we urge them to move forward as quickly as possible to get this program up and running.”
Don and Gerry McGrath, who have dedicated the last five years of their lives to advocating for the passage of the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, worry that any further delay in adopting regulations would cause untold suffering for patients and families in New Jersey. The McGraths lost their youngest son, Sean, to a rare form of cancer in 2004 when Sean was only 28 years old. The McGraths’ story of how Sean’s doctors recommended medical marijuana and how it reduced his suffering has gained statewide attention.
“The reason we became involved with this issue after Sean’s death was so that no other family would have to go through what we went through,” says Don McGrath. “We had to worry constantly about being arrested or having our son arrested just because we wanted to provide him with the medicine that best relieved his nausea and wasting syndrome. His doctors recommended medical marijuana and it provided Sean with relief and hope.”
Senator Nicholas Scutari, who was the prime sponsor of the legislation in the senate, and worked tirelessly for its passage, says, “The passage of this legislation represents significant progress and I expect the Department of Health and Senior Services to promulgate appropriate and effective regulations within the timeframe laid out in the statute. It is imperative to ensure that the ultimate goal of getting this medicine to the patients who are suffering and need relief is satisfied.”
The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act is supported by a coalition of organizations including the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, the New Jersey League for Nursing, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the New Jersey chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.