HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Trenton Is Next Battleground in Marijuana Fight
Pubdate: Sun, 14 May 2006
Source: Ocean County Observer (NJ)
Copyright: 2006 Ocean County Observer
Author: Kim Predham, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


TOMS RIVER - With the announcement that a medical marijuana bill will
be discussed by the state Senate in June, residents and officials in
Ocean County - which has become an improbable battleground for the
issue - are once again gearing up for a fight.

Supporters like Jim Miller, a Dover Township resident whose wife used
marijuana to relieve the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis, hailed
the decision to hold a June 8 hearing.

"It's an important first step," Miller, whose wife Cheryl died in
2003, said.

Miller and other propo-nents of the legislation say that marijuana
alleviates pain and relieves the effects of more traditional
medications, perhaps most notably chemotherapy-induced nausea. Indeed,
Miller said that he once used marijuana to relax his wife Cheryl's
muscles enough that she could continue physical therapy.

"For many really ill people, that (marijuana) is their best medicine,"
Miller said during a telephone interview this week.

But on the other side of the debate are those who say that allowing
marijuana for medicinal use is just a front to legalize marijuana for
all uses.

First Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Terrence P. Farley, who also
heads the county's Narcotics Strike Force, has been a long-time critic
of medical marijuana and has frequently debated Miller face-to-face
and in the opinion pages of local newspapers.

Farley declined to comment for this article, but he told the
Associated Press this week that, "This is how they're trying to get
marijuana legalized."

David Evans, a spokesman for the Drug Free School Coalition,

"I have a lot of compassion for sick and dying people," Evans said.
"But what I'm angry about is using sick people to further legalization
of marijuana."

A cancer survivor himself, Evans says there are several legal
medication already available for truly ill individuals. He also
contends that prolonged marijuana use can actually do more harm than
good, citing testimony from a 2005 Connecticut judiciary hearing
asserting that smoked marijuana can affect the lungs' ability to
defend themselves from infection.

The National Academy of Sciences has found marijuana can help patients
with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting.

A bill pending in the state Legislature lists cancer, glaucoma, HIV
and AIDS, wasting syndrome, chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures and
persistent muscle spasms as among the conditions eligible for medical
marijuana usage.

But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently reiterated its
opposition to medical marijuana and the American Medical Association,
National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and National
Multiple Sclerosis Society reject its use. An April report by federal
Department of Human Services agencies found no data supported
marijuana for general medical use.

"We don't base our medical decisions based on what people says help
them," Evans said.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, who is chairman of a Senate
health panel, is expected to hear from experts on medicinal marijuana
during the June hearing.

The legislative hearing would be the first for a bill long proposed by
Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union.

The Assembly hasn't scheduled any hearings on the bill, but Gov. Jon
S. Corzine - then a gubernatorial candidate - pledged last year that
he would sign a medical marijuana bill into law.

At next month's hearing, the Senate will likely hear from an expert in
marijuana in medicine, the head of the New Jersey State Nurses'
Association and a representative from a state that already allows
medicinal marijuana, Miller said.

Scutari is also expected to testify, Miller said.

The hearing is being held to answer any questions Vitale may have,
Miller said. A vote would likely not be held until a second round of
hearings, he said.

"I am hopeful," Miller said.

Miller, who co-founded the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey,
has remained involved in the struggle to make medicinal marijuana
available and does not intend to stop anytime soon.

But opponents appear equal to the challenge.

Members of the Drug Free School Coalition plan to write to state
legislators, attend the June hearings and urge citizens to send
letters of their own, Evans said. He also wants Scutari to take
testimony from marijuana opponents, he said.

Eleven states currently allow marijuana to be used for medicinal
purposes, even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2005 that
the federal government can prosecute people who use marijuana
regardless of state law.

Miller is confident that by this time next year, legislation approving
medicinal marijuana will be before Corzine.

"I allow myself to get hopeful," Miller said. But, he noted that while
a year might seem short legislatively, for those with grave illnesses
a year may be too late.

"There are a lot of people that will die in the process," he
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