Medicinal Marijuana in new Jersey

On the table in the office of the New Jersey Legislature are two important medical marijuana bills under consideration. People with serious debilitating illnesses will be closely monitoring the outcome of the bills as they seek solutions to the pain associated with their particular illness. Doctors will also keep abreast of the news because it would be their duty to recommend and administer the use of medical marijuana. The two bills in question are A804 and S119.

A Senate Health, Human Services, and Citizens Committee will hold a legislative hearing on S.B. 119 December15, 2008. Earlier, an Assembly committee was held on May 22, 2008. It was the first committee hearing on medicinal marijuana legislation in New Jersey in almost two years.

“New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” was introduced on January 11, by Senator Nicholas P. Scutari (D-22). Explaining his introduction of this legislation, Scutari states, “compassion for the suffering” justifies the legalization of medicinal marijuana in New Jersey. Medical research also suggests that marijuana may alleviate pain or other symptoms associated with certain debilitating medical conditions, while Federal law prohibits its use. With this bill, New Jersey would join 13 other states who have passed medicinal marijuana ballot initiatives. Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington were success stories, while only losing support in South Dakota. Over the past five years, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont have passed medicinal marijuana laws through the state legislative process. Now a quarter of Americans live in a state that recognizes the medical legitimacy of medical marijuana with doctor’s recommendation. The bill includes protection from arrest, prosecution, property forfeiture, and other criminal penalties. A qualifying patient suffering from a debilitating medical condition, as well as his physician and primary care giver are protected under law if the patient uses marijuana for medical purposes in accordance with the provision of the bill. The bill would also provide protection to persons who simply are in the presence or vicinity of such permitted medical use of marijuana.

The Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) would issue registry identification cards containing the cardholder’s photograph to identify the patient and their primary caregivers. This bill would specifically forbid operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of medicinal marijuana. Use of medicinal marijuana will also be banned on school buses, public transportation of any kind, school grounds, correctional facilities, public parks and benches, or at any recreation center.

The state of New Jersey has support from the highest levels of government on its medicinal marijuana initiatives. President elect Barack Obama has publicly promised to end federal raids on state marijuana patients and their caregivers. Former Senator Obama (D-IL) also voted against an amendment in the U.S. Senate that was intended to undermine state medicinal marijuana laws. If New Jersey is to have any support beyond its own successes with medicinal marijuana, it appears it might come from the White House.

Could California be a model for other states? Yes, federal law stills bans the use of medicinal marijuana. But California, amid occasional raids by federal agents, still remains a full fledged medicinal marijuana industry. Reports state about $2 billion a year is made in sales, and $100 million in state taxes are generated. Times are very touchy in California when there is a necessity to keep lawyers at the ready in many clinics.