New Jersey Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, Set to Become 14th Medical Marijuana State (Plus DC)

New Jersey is set to become the 14th state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana after the state Assembly Monday approved the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act" by a vote of 46-14. Later Monday evening, the state Senate, which had already approved its version of the measure, voted final approval by a margin of 25-13. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign the bill. The Assembly debated the bill for half an hour Monday afternoon before approving it. The debate took place before galleries backed with bill supporters and opponents. It was a similar scene in the Senate a few hours later. "It does not make sense for many of New Jersey's residents to suffer when there is a viable way to ease their pain," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), one of the sponsors of the bill. "Medical marijuana can alleviate a lot of suffering, and there is no evidence that legalizing it for medical use increases overall drug use." The bill will be one of the most restrictive in the nation. Patients diagnosed by their primary care physician as having a qualifying medical condition would be allowed to obtain—but not grow—medical marijuana through one of at least six "alternative treatment centers," or dispensaries. But patients would be able to register with only one dispensary at a time and would have to use the written recommendation within a month of when it was written. Qualifying medical conditions include severe or chronic pain, severe nausea or vomiting or cachexia brought on by HIV/AIDS or cancer ("or the treatment thereof"), muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel diseases, and terminal illnesses where the patient has less than a year to live. Chronic pain was removed from the original bill in an Assembly committee vote last summer, but reinserted last week when the Assembly approved an amendment by Assemblyman Gusciora. Patients could possess up to two ounces and be prescribed up to two ounces per month. That is an increase from the one ounce possession limit in earlier versions of the bill. Patients would be able to name a caregiver, courier, or delivery option to pick up medicine at the dispensary and deliver it to them. "This will be the strictest medical marijuana law in the nation," Gusciora said at a statehouse press conference Monday. "We have a good bill that will be very strict and will not decriminalize marijuana, but will allow doctors to prescribe the best treatment for their patients." Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, who has lobbied tirelessly for passage of a medical marijuana bill, agreed that the final Garden State bill is very tight, but said it was a start. "There will be some patients who will be able to get some relief," she said. "We think once the program's up and running and people see that there aren't problems, we'll be able to go back and get in some more of our patients." Also at the press conference were patients Diane Riportella and Mike Oliveri. Riportella was diagnosed with Lu Gerhrig's Disease in 2007 and given no more than five years to live. Oliveri suffers from muscular dystrophy. "I'm so excited to be able to be alive and to be here for this moment," said Riportella, 53, of Egg Harbor Township. "Within a few seconds, I'm relaxed and I'm smiling and I go to Disneyland just for a few minutes and say 'It's not so bad, I can live another day,'" Riportella said. Oliveri, 25, said he moved from his New Jersey home to California in order to be able to legally access medical marijuana. He said he vaporizes about an ounce a week to ease the pain in his legs and back and calm his digestive tract and that he had used it illegally before leaving for the West Coast. "I took every medication known to man before I took weed," said Oliveri, 25. "I knew it was a risk …but it was a life or death matter." The bill was supported by organizations including the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the New Jersey League for Nursing, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the New Jersey chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Special credit goes to the Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, the patients' and advocates' group that has fought for years to get the bill over the top. New Jersey will now join Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington in the list of medical marijuana states. That list also includes the District of Columbia.
Location: 
Trenton, NJ
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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