August 3, 2009
One Step Closer to Medical Marijuana in New Jersey
Legalization of marijuana for medical purposes has always been a highly contested matter. Advocates claim that medicinal marijuana has been shown to alleviate the pain and suffering of chronic patients. On the other hand, critics argue the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes would promote illegal drug use. New Jersey has entered this debate on the side of legalization of marijuana for the chronically ill. On February 23, 2009 the State Senate approved a medical marijuana bill. On June 4, 2009 the Assembly Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted to recommend passage of the bill with slight amendments to the Senate version. The bill now must be voted on by the full house and thereafter reconsidered by the Senate due to the changes in the approved Assembly version. If the measure passes, New Jersey would become the 14th state to enact a medical marijuana law. Although the adoption of the proposed bill would make it legal to use medical marijuana in New Jersey, users would still be subject to federal prosecution because federal law prohibits the use of marijuana. The risk while present, is small when it is considered that ninety-nine percent of marijuana-related arrests in the country are made under state law rather than under federal law.
The bill is targeted to alleviate the suffering of citizens with a debilitating medical condition defined as cancer, glaucoma, positive HIV/AIDS status, or the treatment of a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms and other medical conditions that may be added at a later time. Patients with such diseases are not simply free to light up though. Instead, they must first be found to be a qualifying patient before they can possess marijuana for their own use. That means, getting approval from DHSS as a qualifying patient. To qualify the patient must submit a statement signed by a physician with whom the patient has a bona fide physician-patient relationship stating that the patient has a medical condition that qualifies the patient to use medical marijuana.
The Assembly version of the bill tightens the conditions on obtaining medical marijuana that existed under the Senate version. While the Senate version allowed qualified patients to grow six marijuana plants or have marijuana grown for them at an authorized treatment center the Assembly version provides that the marijuana can be prescribed only by the patients’ treating physician and must be obtained from licensed and regulated nonprofit centers. Under the Assembly version the patient is not permitted to grown their own marijuana.
While not law yet, those suffering with debilitating conditions have new hope that one day medical marijuana will be available in New Jersey to alleviate their pain.
Christina L. Saveriano is an associate of Hill Wallack LLP in the Princeton office where she is a member of the Complex Litigation and Regulatory & Government Affairs Practice Groups. She concentrates her practice in commercial litigation, complex civil litigation and regulatory law with a focus on corporate compliance issues.