TRENTON — Post-traumatic stress disorder would be added to the list of illnesses that would qualify a person for New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, and growers would be permitted to share excess cannabis with their competitors under legislation the state Assembly passed Thursday. The Assembly also started a process to challenge rules the Christie administration created that dispensary owners say discourage people from participating in the medical marijuana program. Sponsors said the rules were not included in the law that was signed by former Gov. Jon Corzine just before Gov. Chris Christie took office in 2010.
The resolution (ACR-224) approved in a 44-20 vote, with eight abstentions, would reverse the requirement that a list be made public of all physicians willing to recommend patients to the program — a step that has kept some doctors from joining out of fear they will alienate other patients or partners.
It would also eliminate the requirement that minors must have recommendations from as many as three doctors, including a psychiatrist, before they may enroll in the program. Parents say few pediatric specialists are registered, all but excluding their children’s involvement. The resolution also would eliminate the state ban on home delivery.
“The purpose of this entire program is to provide relief to critically ill patients, not impose additional burdens on those who are already suffering. Instead, many of these regulations have proven counterproductive because they unnecessarily restrict access to medical marijuana for those who need it most,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), a sponsor of the legislation and the chairman of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee that solicited public comment on how the program is working.
“They have resulted in a shortage of physicians, a lack of necessary strains to combat certain illnesses, and limited the ways to provide relief to minors,” Gusciora added. “The state needs to start working with patients, not against them.”
As of March 2, three dispensaries were serving 4,284 patients and 379 physicians registered with the program, according to the health department.
The Legislature can invalidate state rules and regulations created by the executive branch if two resolutions are approved. The first one gives the Health Commissioner 30 days from the date the resolution is transmitted to change the rules. If the commissioner does nothing, the legislature may pass another resolution to strike down the rules.
The Assembly action on the bill adding PTSD to the list of debilitating conditions (A-3726) passed with a vote of 53-13-7. The disorder can be triggered by exposure to combat, childhood abuse or neglect, among other traumatizing events.
“For many veterans, the effects of PTSD can be profound and are not always healed by time,” said Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union), one of the bill’s sponsors. “Like many other illnesses and conditions that are not easily treatable with traditional medication, medical marijuana holds the promise of providing significant relief for those suffering from PTSD.”
Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd recently turned down a request from registered nurse and founder of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey Ken Wolski to add PTSD to the list.
The law says the health department to consider adding illnesses to the list two years after the law’s enactment.
The Assembly also approved (A4286) by a 57-11 vote with five abstentions to allow the dispensary operators to share excess inventory of seeds, seedlings and plants among each other, in cases where one grower is running short and patients needs won’t be met. Patients must register and buy from one dispensary, or alternative treatment center.
“This change would address recent issues that have been reported at certain alternative treatment centers, which have been unable to meet current patient demand because of difficulties in producing sufficient quantities of medical marijuana in a form that meets both state Health Department standards and patient treatment needs,” said Assembly Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), a sponsor. “Permitting the transfer of excess inventory may help alleviate these issues and ensure that patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions receive needed medication.”
The bills and the resolution await action in the Senate.