N.J. Patients Criticize Overly Strict Medical Marijuana Rules

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  1. Knowledge

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    Dozens of medical marijuana patients and advocates vented their frustrations on Monday over New Jersey's proposed strict rules for the state's long-delayed medical marijuana program, signed into law more than a year ago by outgoing then-Gov. Jon Corzine.

    "You're getting hammered up there, aren't ya?" Crohn's disease patient Stephen Cuspilich of Southampton, N.J., asked state health department officials, reports Susan K. Livio at NJ.com. The officials were holding a legally required hearing on the proposed rules from the administration of Republican Gov. Chris Christie, expected to take effect this summer.

    The Christie Administration has repeatedly pushed back implementation of the law, supposedly to "craft rules" for the program. Without the rules in place, patients have no legal access to marijuana. But the proposed rules are far too restrictive, according to many patients and advocates.

    Cuspilich questioned why New Jersey would require doctors who recommend medical marijuana to take courses on drug addiction first, and why the state would treat marijuana more cautiously than morphine, which unlike cannabis, can kill.

    "You're putting these flaming hoops and hurdles in front of everybody to get this medication -- me and everyone else," Cuspilich scolded. "We know what works for us and what doesn't work for us."

    "You need to stop thinking about the business of the law and think about the intent of the law, which is compassion," Cuspilich said, as those in attendance broke into spontaneous applause.

    Ken Wolski, director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey, said he feared the hearing was merely an "exercise in due diligence," reports Geoff Mulvihill at The Associated Press. The health department officials at the hearing did not answer or ask any questions.

    Only one person testified in favor of the health department's proposed strict rules. Trenton lobbyist Raj Mukherji represented Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus, which has created a nonprofit group, Compassion Care Centers of America Foundation, and is hoping to become one of only six licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.

    The state's "medical model, with its focus on patient outcomes and data analysis, sets New Jersey apart from the other states," Mukherji said. If approved, Meadowlands would become the only working hospital in the U.S. with a state license to dispense marijuana.

    However, even Muckerji, eager to curry the favor of health department officials, had to admit the rules went overboard in some instances. He admitted he hoped the Christie Administration would reconsider its proposed limits on the number of marijuana strains and on the potency of medical cannabis, which would be capped at 10 percent THC, well below the average in other medical marijuana states.

    More variety would make it easier to "measure clinical outcomes" for medical marijuana, Mukherji said.

    The six growers and dispensaries -- known in New Jersey as "alternative treatment centers" -- to be awarded licenses will be announced on March 21 by Health and Senior Services Commissioner Poonam Alaigh.

    Monday's hearing could turn out to be moot. The Democrat-controlled Legislature is just two votes away from overturning the health department's regulations and ordering them to start over. The Legislature could also opt to write the rules themselves, this time.

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