TRENTON - The 12-drug cocktail Scott Ward was prescribed to help deal with his multiple sclerosis knocked him out so much that he couldn't even get out of bed.

"I would just sit there, not being able to move, practically drooling on myself," said Ward.

The 25-year-old Rutgers graduate and former Marine found the only thing that made the pain go away was marijuana but was "apprehensive" about using it and getting in trouble with the law. But the illegal drug, said Ward, was the only drug that gave him the ability to function.

"I could get up and walk around. I couldn't do that on the medicine the doctors prescribed to me," said Ward, of Robbinsville.

Along with Ward's, a host of similar stories were shared with the Assembly health committee Thursday, with lawmakers again contemplating whether to make New Jersey the 13th state in the nation to legalize marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

Opposed by anti-drug advocacy groups, the bill would allow doctors to prescribe use of the drug for those suffering with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis. The bipartisan bill was not voted on Thursday after a discussion that was more of a gauge to see where lawmakers stand on the issue and talk about its possible implementation, said sponsor Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer.

"Any time we can give people the opportunity to lead a productive life, we should encourage that and also facilitate that," said Gusciora. "This is not to make marijuana rampant in society, but simply after being prescribed by a physician for treatment of the most debilitating diseases that we have."

Identification cards to prevent prosecution for carrying the illegal substance would be issued to patients or adult caregivers prescribed marijuana. Those prescribed the drug would have to enter into a state-run database.

The bill was met by strong opposition from anti-drug advocacy groups, who spoke of potential abuse, negative health effects and ulterior motives by groups advocating its legalization.

"First rule of medicine is do no harm. ... There is at least reasonable doubt that you might do more harm by passing this bill than not passing this bill," said David Evans, executive director of the New Jersey Drug Free Schools coalition, who argued groups supporting the bill are using it as "a lever for legalizing marijuana" for all citizens.

Drug Policy Alliance state director Roseanne Scotti, who supports the bill, said she would not address the allegations, but prior to the meeting Scotti discussed similar arguments that the bill was a front to legalize drugs.

"These are seriously ill people. This is about compassion and relieving suffering, nothing else," Scotti said.

There is no mechanism in the proposal, however, allowing for a distribution system or for the state to grow marijuana plants, which several committee members voiced concerns about because of the illicit means that would have to be used to obtain it.

Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, D-Hudson, suggested to the committee that before the bill starts moving through the Legislature "we come up with at least a pilot program of distribution so we are not putting people in harm's way having to obtain it."

Lawmakers discussed ideas such as being able to obtain marijuana at a pharmacy or through marijuana cooperatives such as ones in California, but Gusciora said he did not favor marijuana shops or cooperatives.

Studies have shown marijuana use can have positive effects on relieving pain and nausea, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not given its approval.

Source: Asbury Park Press (NJ)
Copyright: 2008 Asbury Park Press
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