New Jersey on Verge of Becoming 14th State to Allow Access to Medical Marijuana

Press Release January 7, 2010
Media Contact

Meagan Johnson at 609-496-3497 or Roseanne Scotti at 609-610-8243

TRENTON, NJ — The New Jersey legislature is on the verge of passing the state’s first medical marijuana bill, making New Jersey the 14th state to allow access to medical marijuana for qualified patients. The New Jersey State Senate and Assembly will take final legislative votes Monday on the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (A804/S119) to reconcile differing versions of the bill passed by the two chambers.

On January 7th, the Assembly approved amendments to the legislation that would make New Jersey’s medical marijuana law the most restrictive in the country. The Senate passed its version of the bill on February 23rd with bipartisan support (Senators Bill Baroni, Kip Bateman, Sean Kean, Robert Singer and Joseph Pennacchio voted for the bill). Polling has shown between 82 percent and 86 percent support for medical marijuana in New Jersey, and Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

Advocates and supporters of the legislation are gearing up for final passage. Patients, elected officials and advocates will be holding a pre-vote press conference at 11 AM in the Statehouse Annex, Committee Room 8, 3rd Floor.

“This has been a long struggle,” said Meagan Johnson, policy coordinator of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, who has worked on the bill since 2006. “It has been heartbreaking to see the patients who need this medication struggling and in pain waiting for the legislature to offer relief. For the sake of these patients and their families, we need final approval of this bill.”

The measure will allow patients suffering from certain debilitating and life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis, to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. Medical marijuana has proven effective for relief from nausea, muscle spasms, chronic pain, loss of appetite and wasting syndrome. The bill requires patients to register with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Service. Upon approval, patients will receive registration cards indicating that they are allowed to legally possess and use 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). Assembly Bill 804 is sponsored by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris), Thomas P. Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic), Vincent Prieto (D-Bergen, Hudson), Gordon M. Johnson (D-Bergen), Assemblywomen Joan M. Voss (D-Bergen), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), Connie Wagner (D-Bergen), Shelia Y. Oliver (D-Essex, Passaic), Cleopatra G. Tucker (D-Essex), Mila M. Jasey (D-Essex), and Linda Stender (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union).

For seriously ill patients, the long wait for final passage has been agonizing. For almost three years, Diane Riportella, once a marathon runner, has been coping with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, an incurable neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She tried every legally prescribed medicine her doctors suggested while searching for relief from her symptoms, but has found that medical marijuana best provides a reprieve in what she calls a living nightmare.

“My breathing capacity has diminished to 27% and I have recently been put on hospice. I have lost function of my arms and legs, stripping me of my independence and forcing me to now rely on others to literally carry me and help me carry out normal everyday functions like going the bathroom, bathing, getting dressed, and eating,” said Riportella. “Time to wait for elected officials to ‘do the right thing’ and allow me safe access to my medicine is unfortunately a luxury I don’t have, which is why I urge the legislature to pass the Compassionate Use Act on Monday.”

The legislation is supported by the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, 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 of New Jersey.

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