S2842 and the Future of the Medical Marijuana Program in New Jersey
The importance of S2842 to the medical marijuana program in New Jersey is not commonly understood but is undeniable, especially because New Jersey’s medical marijuana program has a reputation as one of the strictest programs in the nation. As of last week, Governor Chris Christie signed a revised version of S2842. The background story behind S2842 pertains to allowing minors to obtain medical marijuana in New Jersey. Two year old Vivian Wilson suffers from Dravet disease, which is a severe form of epilepsy (with upwards of 20 seizures a day). After trying numerous prescription medications and exhausting virtually all other options her parents began searching for alternative treatment options-namely medical marijuana. Unfortunately, the state severely restricts children from being eligible for the program. Not only does the state require three physicians to specifically prescribe medical marijuana for the child (which is difficult to begin with but especially difficult in New Jersey since it has the least amount of physicians in the nation registered to the medical marijuana program) but it also disallows (criminalizes) the use of edibles (clearly a hindrance since smoking cannabis is obviously not a viable option for minors).
In recent years, medical marijuana has continued to prove itself as a revolutionary treatment option for alleviating severe pain, increasing appetite in cancer patients, and also treating patients with PTSD. It has been proven that certain strains of medical marijuana- those with a high CBD and low THC content- have remarkably reduced seizures in children and adults. More doctors are increasingly open to prescribing medical marijuana to patients under their supervision. Recently, even Dr Sanjay Gupta changed his views on marijuana. His research and realization about the benefits of medical marijuana was featured in the CNN special, “Weed” (~which also highlighted that he was systematically and specifically duped by the DEA and federal government…). More Americans are changing their minds about marijuana, polls indicate on any given day over 50% believe it should be fully legalized.
A major victory for Vivian, current, and potential medical marijuana patients has finally happened as of last week. Governor Christie (who is usually adamantly against marijuana-even medical marijuana) was backed into a corner and politically forced to sign S2842. The 3 strain limit ban has been lifted- allowing production of various combinations of high CBD/low THC (and vice versa when needed) strains of cannabis. In addition, instead of three doctor sign-offs for the authorization card, under the new law potential patients have to only visit a psychiatrist and also a physician. Children, like Vivian, now have better access to edibles and highly effective concentrated hash oil.
Although Governor Christie helped to update the medical marijuana program for children with debilitating illnesses, S2842 still constricts seniors and adults with its many limitations. One most notable problem is the fact that adults over the age of 18 still have no access to other forms of medical marijuana such as edibles and hash oil (~Do Not Include in Paper: darn Christie snuck that in on us…). The question remains, what will happen to Jackson Storm (a 14 year old minor who also suffers from severe seizures and who was also granted medical marijuana due to S2842) once he turns 18 in four years? One of the misconceptions behind this line of reasoning is that many people equate smoking marijuana with smoking tobacco but research has shown that smoking marijuana does not cause lung cancer the way smoking tobacco does.
Another problem that persists and is completely unacceptable is that under S2842 patients have to go see both a physician and a psychiatrist for their authorization cards. Although S2842 amended the physician’s authorization from 3 to 2, it is definitely questionable as to why it is mandatory for patients to see a psychiatrist? Many other states, California for instance, only require one physician with a state ID. Another problem with S2842 is that the legislation does not address the astronomical cost of obtaining an authorization card in New Jersey. Under the frequently asked questions in the New Jersey Medical Marijuana program website, it costs $200 for an authorization card. This does not include the costs of the two doctor visits, which are now required by the law. Lastly, S2842 does not tackle the issue of expanding (increasing) the number of medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state of New Jersey. The only dispensary, Greenleaf Compassion Center, had to close their doors for almost 2 months due to the overwhelming demand and shortage of medical marijuana. This is because their plan was to build a surplus of medication to better serve their patients. Unfortunately, as a result there are too many people stuck on the waiting list, just hoping to obtain access to medical marijuana.
In the end, marijuana should no longer be demonized as a “gateway” or an “evil” drug. Unlike tobacco, marijuana contains healing properties The solution to the medical marijuana debacle in New Jersey is to revamp the whole program by reconstructing it to mirror similar programs with fewer restrictions, like in Washington State. For example, in Washington State the cost of an authorization card is $75. New Jersey needs to lower the cost of obtaining an authorization card to below $100. Another solution to improve the medical marijuana program in New Jersey is that every citizen of the state of New Jersey regardless of age should have access to all options of medical marijuana, including tinctures, edibles, and hash oil. Moreover, New Jersey’s requirement for a potential patient to visit a psychiatrist is utmost ridiculous, because prescription medicine does not require an authorization from both a physician and a psychiatrist. (~THANK YOU~) In addition, New Jersey should expand the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana eligibility to patients with depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. Here is my advice (or solution) for the lack of dispensaries in the state: If Governor Christie truly believes in the Republican ideology of the free market economy with no regulations and open and uninhibited competition in order to lower the prices of products, he must stop impeding the opening of dispensaries throughout the state. Only two more dispensaries will open within the next couple of months- which are divided geographically throughout the state (north, central, and south Jersey). Generally speaking, a voter referendum should be the overall solution in the midterm elections next year. The general public should decide on what to do with the medical marijuana program and also the possible legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey.
Unfortunately, we continue to live in a society where all too often our elected officials undermine our constitutional rights (in which we are entitled to make decisions based on our own personal choices without the government systemically ruling over us). Neither Governor Christie or even President Obama has the authority to continue to intervene against patients, who have the right to choose what treatment option is best for them. Overall, if Governor Christie is reelected for another term (~and I suspect he will be…), he must think about decriminalizing marijuana as well as expanding and developing the medical marijuana program in New Jersey.