Monday, March 22, 2010

Ailing await medicinal marijuana

COLLINGSWOOD â€" Donna Doak anxiously awaits the day when she can
get a prescription for marijuana.

The Swedesboro nurse, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and spinal
stenosis and is wheelchair-bound, said marijuana can ease her pain
without the nasty side effects of her current medications.

"Now that it's been legalized, I want to pursue it," said Doak, who was
among the roughly dozen people who attended a town hall meeting at the
Collingswood Library sponsored by the Coalition for Medical Marijuana
New Jersey. "I just think it's going to really enable me to have a
better quality of life."

In January, New Jersey became the fourth state on the East Coast to
legalize medicinal marijuana when then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed the
Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act into law.

The legislation legalized marijuana use in the treatment of certain
conditions, including glaucoma, seizures, cancer, AIDS, inflammatory
bowel syndrome and neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis.

While many of the details of New Jersey's law are still to be
determined, patients should be able to obtain a prescription that would
allow them to purchase marijuana from a state-licensed alternative
treatment center as soon as July.

"Marijuana is a safe, effective and inexpensive treatment for a host of
diseases," said the coalition's executive director, Ken Wolski, a
registered nurse.

Fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana.

"Another dozen states are considering similar laws," Wolski said.

Among the states considering medical marijuana bills this year are
Alabama, Delaware, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

"We do have the most restrictive bill in the country," said Wolski,
adding that New Jersey is the only state that doesn't allow home

Coalition officials estimate that roughly 4,000 people in New Jersey
will obtain a prescription for marijuana.

"One of the more common questions we get is if insurance companies will
pay for medical marijuana," coalition board member Chris Goldstein said.
"I think medical marijuana is equal to an over-the-counter medication.
They don't cover Tylenol, they don't cover ibuprofen, so I don't think
they'll cover medical marijuana."

Coalition members also discussed the case of a Franklin Township man
with multiple sclerosis who was sentenced to five years in prison for
growing marijuana in the backyard of his rental property.

A sign that read "Pardon John Ray Wilson" and "medical marijuana
patient, not a criminal" sat on a table at the library.

"To me, it was a travesty of justice," Wolski said.

"It's the most lenient sentence that the judge could give under the
law," Goldstein said. "The question is whether he'll be able to use
medical marijuana when he goes on parole."

James Wayne, of Bellmawr, uses marijuana to lessen the pain for a head
injury and severe back problems but will not be able to obtain a
prescription under the new law because chronic pain is not one of the
approved uses.

"The Percocet makes me nauseous and I can't think right," Wayne said. "I
smoke two or three hits and I'm good for a couple of hours. I would much
rather have the person who is driving my children to be taking marijuana
for their pain than taking 10 milliliters of Percocet."

Goldstein said the coalition will host town hall meetings throughout the
state to educate people about the law and discuss its implementation.

"This is legal now," Goldstein said. "You don't have to be afraid to
talk about this. It's a private decision to use medical marijuana just
like it's a private decision to use any medication."

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