Medical marijuana advocates say N.J. program’s restrictions impede economy

TRENTON – Supporters of New Jersey’s fledgling medical marijuana program believe the state’s restrictive guidelines are impeding economic growth as well as health care.

Advocates of dispensing marijuana to patients for medicinal purposes believe the low potency permitted under the state’s program – 10 percent – as well as the fact physicians have to register with the state in order to participate are serving as roadblocks.

Ken Wolski, a registered nurse and CEO of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, said today that “no patient should ever suffer needlessly,’’ but that the slow pace of getting the state’s six approved treatment centers up and running is causing just that.

Although Gov. Chris Christie said when he approved the program in July that the state expected centers to be in operation probably by the end of the year, Wolski said today the fact that doctors must register is having a “chilling effect.’’

Less than 1 percent have signed up, he said.

In addition, he said other mandates put in place by the state – such as requiring physicians to provide patients with a statement that there is a lack of scientific consensus on the issue of medical marijuana – also serve as deterrents to participation.

The effect of these regulations is to hamper the state’s economy, because advocates said they believe the medical marijuana program can serve as a revenue-producer.

According to Thomas Leto, president of the year-old U.S. Medical Marijuana Chamber of Commerce, an association of 2,000 members and 340 businesses, medical marijuana generated $1.7 billion in sales last year.

They believe that in five years sales will exceed $10 billion a year.

In addition to sales of medical marijuana, advocates believe there will be related economic benefits for other companies, such as manufacturers of equipment for hydroponic growth of medical marijuana.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have approved such programs. Wolski predicted that within 15 years medical marijuana will be the law of the land.

State rejects criticism

In response to the criticisms, Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Donna Leusner said that the department created a “physician-directed medical model’’ to ensure that only N.J.-licensed doctors can register and attest to a patient’s illness.

The registry guards against abuses, she said, and added that 99 physicians have registered since October. As an additional safeguard, she said doctors must have an ongoing relationship with a patient in order to participate.

Regarding the potency, she said that in samples seized by law enforcement agencies, the average amount of THC reached was 10.1 percent in 2008.

“Limiting the THC level also will allow for standardization and evaluation by the state,” she said.

“The 10 percent level is a reasonable amount based on research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and done by the University of Mississippi’s Potency Monitoring Project, one of the only federally approved medicinal marijuana research projects in the country.”

In addition, she said that inexperienced users—such as the elderly and sick patients with debilitating illnesses like MS—may not know how to moderate their intake and could possibly suffer such negative effects as dysphoria, paranoia and irritability if they use inappropriate doses.

High concentrations of THC have shown in some studies to have the opposite effect of low concentrations, she said.

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