Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act effectively rescheduled marijuana in New Jersey

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One of the new rules that the State Board of Medical Examiners (the Board) is proposing for physicians who wish to authorize the medical use of marijuana for their patients under the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (the Act) is an active controlled dangerous substances (CDS) registration.  The Board recognizes that this is not required under the terms of the law.  But the Board believes that requiring physicians to possess an active CDS registration in order to participate in the distribution of marijuana for medical purposes is reasonable and consistent with the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I medication under the New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act, N.J.S.A. 24:21-2.

A current CDS registration is completely irrelevant for participation in the distribution of a Schedule I drug.  It is a worthless piece of paper for this purpose—a meaningless bureaucratic addition.  The Board might as well propose that physicians have a current passport to participate in the program.  The Board would serve the physicians, patients and State of New Jersey far better if they recognized and insisted that the passage of the Act effectively rescheduled marijuana in New Jersey.

According to N.J.S.A. 24:21-2, a substance is Schedule I if the substance:  “(1) has high potential for abuse; and (2) has no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; or lacks accepted safety for use in treatment under medical supervision.”

But the very rules that the Board’s proposal is included in notes that “the Act authorizes the use of marijuana to treat or alleviate pain or other symptoms associated with certain specifically identified debilitating medical conditions.”  Elsewhere in the proposed rules, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services notes that “the Act finds and declares that marijuana has beneficial uses in treating or alleviating pain or other symptoms associated with certain debilitating medical conditions.”  The Act and these proposed rules establish a program for the safe use of marijuana, under medical supervision, in the treatment of a variety of diseases and symptoms.  The Act is entirely inconsistent with marijuana’s continued inclusion in New Jersey’s list of Schedule I drugs.

Other drugs listed as Schedule I include heroin, Peyote and Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).   Clearly, these are drugs that have no current, accepted medical uses in the United States.  But just as clearly, marijuana has recognized medical uses in the United States.  So far 15 states and the District of Columbia have removed penalties for patients who use medical marijuana.  Time magazine estimates that over 369,000 patients are currently using marijuana with their physicians’ recommendations in nearly one third of the U.S. that has these programs.  Time also notes in its November 22, 2010 edition, “More than a dozen other states are considering the idea.”  A number of national medical organizations urge immediate legal access to marijuana for patients who would otherwise suffer needlessly or become lawbreakers.  These organizations include the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Public Health Association, and the American Nurses Association and the American College of Physicians.  Even the American Medical Association last year endorsed marijuana’s rescheduling on a federal level.

The Board should not propose meaningless bureaucratic additions to an already complex and overly restrictive set of regulations.  The Board should instead recognize and declare that marijuana has been rescheduled in New Jersey by this Act.  If fact, if the Board wanted to something really useful, they would petition the federal government to reschedule marijuana as well.

The author is Executive Director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana–New Jersey, Inc.

Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act effectively rescheduled marijuana in New Jersey