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

Press Release June 3, 2009
Media Contact

Roseanne Scotti at 609-610-8243

TRENTON, NJ– New Jersey moved one step closer today to becoming the fourteenth state in the nation that allows access to medical marijuana. The Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee held a hearing today on Assembly Bill 804 and voted the bill out of committee with eight affirmative votes, one negative, and two abstentions. Assembly Bill 804 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 program would be administered by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.

Patients, doctors, and advocates applauded the committee’s action on Assembly Bill 804. The bill now moves to the full Assembly for a vote.

“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,” said Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. “We want to thank the assembly members on the committee for voting for the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.”

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), and Cleopatra G. Tucker (D-Essex). Assemblymen Gusciora and Carroll, prime sponsors of the legislation, in addition to Assemblywoman Voss testified before their colleagues on the health committee. Senators Scutari, prime sponsor of the companion bill, S119 also appeared before the committee in support of the legislation.

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 Assembly Bill 804,” 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, the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, and the New Jersey State Nurses Association all submitted testimony today at the hearing in support of Assembly Bill 804.

“Physicians, nurses and hospice patients know that medical marijuana is invaluable in reducing the pain, nausea, vomiting and retching that can exist long after chemotherapy ends and a patient enters hospice care,” said Don Pendley, president of the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, which represents 47 hospices and the 30,000 dying patients they serve each year. “We applaud the Assembly Health Committee for endorsing this bill. Regulated use of medical marijuana will make dying patients more comfortable and make their final weeks with their families more bearable for all.”

Diane Riportella, who is dying from ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, tried every legally prescribed medicine her doctors suggested while searching for relief from her symptoms, before she decided to try medical marijuana which has drastically improved her quality of life and her family’s. Riportella was excited by the committee’s action and hopeful that the legislation would pass the full Assembly before the summer recess.

“To say that I am happy and grateful that the majority of the Assembly Health Committee voted in favor of A804 would be an understatement. I came here today to fight for the basic right to reduce my suffering. To use marijuana, my medicine, which works for me,” said Riportella. “The Assembly Health Committee’s vote is incredibly encouraging and I urge the full Assembly 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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