Pubdate: Thu, 22 Jan 2009
Source: Atlanticville (NJ)
Copyright: 2009 Greater Media Newspapers
Author: Mary Pat Angelini
Note: Mary Pat Angelini is the representative  for the 11th Legislative
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Opinion)


Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in America.
According to a national survey performed by the Department of Health
and Human Services, nearly 95 million Americans over the age of 21
have tried marijuana at least once. In addition to this alarming
statistic, of the 7.1 million Americans suffering from illegal drug
dependence or abuse, 60 percent abuse marijuana. These facts alone
show that our country is currently struggling to control this
substance and make it very clear that policies must be initiated that
will  further restrict access to this drug versus granting permission
to obtain the substance.

The FDA -- which opposes the use of smoked marijuana -- is the
federal agency that certifies what drugs are safe and those that have
a medicinal benefit. While I am a supporter of states' rights, it is
critical that scientific research be conducted to determine what the
ramifications are as a result of smoking a potentially dangerous
substance. In 2006, the FDA declared that marijuana has a high
potential for abuse, and that there is a lack of accepted safety for
its use, even under medical supervision. The very idea of ingesting a
"medicine" by smoking it is counterintuitive.

On Dec. 15, the New Jersey Senate's Health, Human Services and Senior
Citizens Committee favorably reported the "New Jersey Compassionate
Use Medical Marijuana Act" by a 6-1 vote, with two abstentions. The
proposed bill would permit patients, who are diagnosed  by a physician
as having a debilitating medical condition, to smoke marijuana either
by cultivating up to six plants themselves or having it provided by a
state-authorized personal caregiver. The legislation would also
empower the Department of Health and Senior Services to establish
alternative treatment centers to produce and dispense marijuana for
medical purposes to those possessing a registry identification card.
Currently, 13 other states permit the use of marijuana for medical

The potential for this legislation to become law is ill-advised
public policy. I empathize with the stories described by the bill's
supporters of the relief that smoking marijuana gives those with
debilitating diseases, but I fear that New Jersey would be making a
mistake with unforeseen and unintended consequences if we think we
can systematically control who will have lawful access to a
controlled and dangerous subject. The pitfalls are huge and the
opportunity for misuse and abuse are plentiful.

The Senate committee stated that medical research suggested that
smoking marijuana may alleviate pain or other symptoms associated with
certain medical conditions. Yet, there have been no studies conducted
by the United States Food and Drug Administration to substantiate
this claim.

Further, the Multiple Sclerosis Society's Information Sourcebook --
last updated in 2005 -- advised that "based on studies to date, it is
the opinion of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Medical
Advisory Board that there are currently insufficient data to
recommend marijuana or its derivatives as a treatment for MS.
Long-term use of marijuana may be associated with significant serious
side effects."

New Jersey -- like the other 13 states -- is in the process of
sidestepping the protocol for approving medications. Questions
regarding the use and effectiveness of medicine are for the FDA to
answer,  not special interest groups, not individuals, and not the
state Legislature.

I am sensitive to the pain that individuals endure from disease, but
that does not make it appropriate to sanction the medical use of
marijuana. The implications of this legislation are farreaching, with
an increased opportunity for abuse. I am not convinced that a secure
system can be put into place that ensures the responsible production,
delivery, and monitoring of medical marijuana.

Allowing either the patient or their caregiver to possess six
marijuana plants for harvesting, or creating alternative treatment
centers to dispense this product should raise a red flag to those
concerned with  making or executing sound public policy. The average
marijuana plant can produce anywhere from 1 to 5 pounds of smokeable
materials per year, resulting in a total harvest of anywhere between
6 to 30 pounds of marijuana. Who will oversee its output and ensure
that  patients do not overmedicate, or that the excess production is
not diverted to those who use marijuana for recreational purposes?

The Drug Enforcement Administration lists marijuana as a schedule I
drug as classified by the Controlled Substances Act, which defines
drugs in this category as being the most restrictive for use due to
their high potential for abuse and addictiveness. Products in this
category are also found to have no currently accepted medical use in
treatment in the United States. It is not surprising that the DEA
does not endorse the use of smoked marijuana for medical purposes.

What is troubling about this legislation is the message that it sends
to our youth. I have seen firsthand the devastation that drugs and
alcohol bring not only to the individual who uses these products, but
upon their families and friends as well. We should not be in the
position of trying to justify to young people that smoking marijuana
under certain circumstances is permissible, but unlawful and harmful
under others.

While we are a compassionate society, there must be a balance between
alleviating or managing pain, and creating a system that potentially
does more harm than good. There are too many unanswered questions
regarding this serious public policy issue to justify it becoming
law. And once the box is opened it will be difficult to return its
contents if things do not work out.

Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini is the representative for the 11th
Legislative District.
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