Pubdate: Mon, 15 Dec 2008
Source: Press of Atlantic City, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2008 South Jersey Publishing Co.
Author: Ben Leach
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


A state Senate committee will discuss legislation today that would
make New Jersey the 14th state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

If Senate Bill 119 eventually is signed into law, patients with
debilitating illnesses, including cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and multiple
sclerosis, would have access to marijuana to relieve their pain if
prescribed by a doctor.

The bill is sponsored by state Sens. Nicholas P. Scutari, D-Union,
Somerset, Middlesex, and Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic.

The legalization of marijuana - considered the single most abused
illicit drug in the United States by the National Institute on Drug
Abuse - for medicinal purposes already has happened in 13 other
states, most recently Michigan.

Jim Miller, president of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New
Jersey, has fought tirelessly for marijuana legalization. His wife,
Cheryl, lived with multiple sclerosis, a potentially debilitating
disease that blocks the brain from communicating with other parts of
the body, for 32 years before dying in 2003 at age 57.

"I got to see on a regular basis what life was like when she didn't
take (medical marijuana)," Miller said. "And I saw the brief periods
of relief when she did."

Marijuana, or cannabis, has been used in medicine since the 19th
century. A study by the National Institute of Medicine in 1999
concluded that "the accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic
value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms such as pain
relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite

But the Food and Drug Administration believes otherwise. Cannabis is
classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act,
the most restrictive class of drug. The FDA does not approve of the
use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Miller said he constantly gets calls from people in the kind of pain
his late wife experienced, and he tries to provide the drug for them
whenever he can.

"I risk arrest to help people whenever I can," Miller said. "It's a
sad state of affairs when I can take care of these people and hospice

The concern for many is that even with many restrictions to access,
others could get a hold of marijuana and use it - and abuse it - for
recreational purposes. It's a behavior already observed in the abuse
of alcohol and certain prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, both of
which are legalized.

Despite the potential for harm, anti-drug groups are hoping decisions
will be made following sound medical advice.

"We believe that this is a medical issue and that it should be handled
by medical professionals," said Angelo Valente, the executive director
of Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

The hearing takes place in Committee Room 11 on the fourth floor of
the Statehouse Annex.
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