There’s a big win for medical marijuana patients in the fine print of new bill
EDITOR’S NOTE: Interested in the marijuana business industry? NJ Cannabis Insider is a new premium intelligence briefing that features exclusive weekly content geared toward entrepreneurs, lawyers and realtors. View a sample issue.
Deep in the legislation that lawmakers say will fix the perceived mistakes in the medical marijuana law is a nugget of hope for patients who do not qualify for the program yet.
The leader of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission — the new entity that would be created by the bill to control the medicinal program and the hypothetical legal market– would decide which conditions qualify for cannabis.
That power now rests with the state Health Commissioner, advised by a panel of medical experts. Until March, only one condition, post traumatic stress disorder, had been added to the narrow list included in the 2010 law.
Gov. Phil Murphy, who took office in January, added two forms of chronic pain, anxiety, Tourette’s syndrome and migraines to the list in March. The enrollment has since risen 57 percent to 32,300 participants, according to health department data.
Murphy also granted Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal unilateral authority to add conditions to the list.
Giving that decision-making responsibility to the commission’s executive director cuts through the red tape that has bound up the process of expanding the list of conditions during the Christie years, Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, a prime sponsor of the bill.
It could also encourage more doctors to recommend patients to the program, Vitale said. There are just 775 doctors out of the 28,000 licensed in New Jersey who are registered with the program, with 234 joining since March, according to state data.
The amendments to the bill, obtained by NJ Advance Media say:
“The executive director may waive any requirement of (the existing medicinal marijuana law) if the executive director determines that granting the waiver is necessary…to provide access to patients who would not otherwise qualify for the medical use of cannabis to alleviate suffering from a diagnosed medical condition, and does not create a danger to the public health, safety, or welfare.”
Ken Wolski, one of the founders of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey and a longtime patient advocate, said this is exactly what patients need.
“It should be up to the physicians, like it is in California, in the privacy of patient interactions,” Wolski said.
“To bring it to a single person who could make a decision would be a great — whether it is head of Department of Health or the executive director of this commission. Let’s speed it along,” added Wolski, a nurse.
Think of patients who suffer from “orphan diseases,” maladies that affect fewer than 200,000 patients worldwide, Wolski said. It’s tougher to argue for illnesses not widely known but it’s not fair to patients who may otherwise be passed over for cannabis therapy he said.
The coalition asked the state to add a rare and incurable neurological condition on behalf of a child whose family wanted to try cannabis. The answer was no.
“We already recognize marijuana as being neuro-protective for patients with ALS, MS and muscular dystrophy. They were in the first wave (of conditions) that qualified for marijuana therapy. Why subject (the family) to a couple years delay?”
The medical advisory panel still has a role under the new legislation Wolski said. The doctors and other medical providers on the panel will be responsible for creating a continuing education course so professionals have a chance to learn about how to recommend cannabis, Wolski said.
“It’s incumbent on physicians to learn how the system works,” he said.
A verison of this report first appeared by NJ Cannabis Insider.