NJ Moves One Step Closer to Becoming the Fourteenth State to Allow Access to Medical Marijuana

Press Release December 14, 2008
Media Contact

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

New Jersey moved one step closer today to becoming the fourteenth state in the nation that allows access to medical marijuana. The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee held a hearing today on Senate Bill 119 and voted the bill out of committee with six affirmative votes, one negative, and two abstentions. 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 and possess medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The bill would also allow for the licensing of centers where qualifying patients could safely access medical marijuana. The program would be administered by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.

Patients, doctors, and advocates applauded the committee’s action on Senate Bill 119. The bill now moves to the full senate for a vote.

“We want to thank the senators on the committee for voting for the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act,” said Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. “The bottom line is 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? New Jerseyans overwhelmingly support this legislation and we are grateful to the committee for hearing their voices.”

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, prime sponsor of the legislation, testified before his colleagues on the health committee.

Dr. Denis Petro, internationally known expert on medical marijuana, who testified regarding the scientific support for medical marijuana, praised the committee for voting in support of the legislation.

“I am pleased to see the support of the committee for Senate Bill 119,” said Petro, a board-certified neurologist in Pennsylvania with more than 25 years experience in neurology, clinical pharmacology and marijuana research. “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”.

Thirteen states now have laws allowing seriously ill patients access to medical marijuana–Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, 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 today at the hearing in support of Senate Bill 119.

“I am thrilled that today members of the Senate Health Committee supported the common sense and compassionate response to suffering.” 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. “Medical marijuana is used very successfully in other states and in other countries. We should not be asking ‘why should we legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes?’ but rather ‘why shouldn’t we?’ ”

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 which has drastically improved his quality of life. Ward was excited by the committee’s action and hopeful that the legislation would continue to progress to passage.

“To say that I am happy and grateful that the majority of the Senate Health Committee voted in favor of S119 would be an understatement. I came here today to fight for the basic right to live a pain-free life; to be able to get out of bed in the morning not feeling terrible. To use marijuana, my medicine, which works for me,” said Ward. “The Senate Health Committee’s vote is incredibly encouraging and I urge the rest of the legislature to follow their lead quickly so that other New Jerseyans suffering like myself may find some relief.”

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

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