By Kay Goodstadt
People suffering from the ravages of chemotherapy, glaucoma, HIV, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy or terminal illnesses sometime turn to marijuana - as a last hope for relief. Yet, under current law, these patients are subject to arrest, criminal prosecution and incarceration. Even their doctors can find themselves under fire from prosecutors should they promote the medicinal benefits of pot.
It just doesn't make sense.
Some studies have found that a component of marijuana may help fight lung cancer, while others suggest that the cannabis compound could help patients with brain, prostate and skin cancers. For the gravely ill, taking a few whiffs of pot hardly makes for a party. Withholding any substance that could have lifesaving properties for them seems markedly criminal.
New Jersey residents understand this. Public polls have consistently shown that about 80 percent of Garden State residents - maybe you, your family, friends or neighbors - support access to medical marijuana when it is legally prescribed. These polls include a 2002 Eagleton survey (82 percent), a 2002 Time/CNN poll (80 percent) and a 2004 AARP sampling (79 percent).
The Trenton-based Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, founded in 2003, supports safe and lawful access to prescription pot for patients under a physician's supervision. Their mission is to protect New Jersey patients from needless suffering, as well as preventing them from being jailed merely for following substantiated medical advice.
Doctors routinely prescribe risky narcotics, proven to be more addictive and dangerous than pot. Although it is estimated that common aspirin causes more than 1,000 deaths each year, there has never been a single documented marijuana-related death. Alcohol abuse causes more deaths than all illegal drugs, and prescription drug overdoses are second only to fatal motor-vehicle crashes.
Legalizing pot would put an effective, nontoxic drug on the market that could be taxed, regulated, and obtained more cheaply than most prescription drugs.
This issue will soon be considered again in New Jersey. Gov. Corzine, as he promised before his own near-fatal accident, is expected to endorse Senate Bill 88, which would remove state penalties for the possession, use and cultivation of a small amount of marijuana when it is recommended by a doctor.
In 2005, Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D., Union) introduced Senate Bill 88 and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D., Mercer) introduced Assembly Bill 933, together known as the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. They would bring state law into line with modern clinical research and the personal accounts of marijuana-using patients.
A 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine, a Washington-based, government-funded institution, spotlighted the superior uses of medicine marijuana. If public polls and medical and scientific studies all come to the same conclusion, why can't government?
Let us hope that Gov. Corzine, who unfortunately has become very familiar with severe pain and suffering, is ready to sign Senate Bill 88.