My name is Vanessa Waltz, and I am a Stage III cancer survivor. Since 2011, I have been involved in efforts to reform New Jersey’s broken medical marijuana program. I believe strongly in the freedom to use marijuana recreationally. I also believe that War on Marijuana is a war on people of color. That said, I am limiting the remainder of my testimony today to my experience as a patient and member of the Board of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana – New Jersey, because legalization in our state seems to be the only way to effectively provide all patients in need with legal access to marijuana medicine.
As a CMMNJ board member, I have spoken with numerous patients who have been failed by the New Jersey medical program. More than 5 years after the New Jersey Compassionate Use Act was signed into law, many patients are still obtaining marijuana on the black market, and if they are caught by law enforcement, they are risking arrest and incarceration under our current laws. The reasons patients are still turning to the black market are many, including the following: patients cannot afford the prices at dispensaries; patients cannot physically access dispensaries due to geographic distance; patients cannot afford physicians’ appointments to get ID cards; patients cannot get the quantity of marijuana needed for treatment of their specific illness; patients cannot get strains of marijuana needed for treatment of their specific illness; patients cannot get alternative preparations of marijuana needed for their specific illness (e.g. oils, lozenges, topicals). And perhaps most significantly, many patients with serious illnesses or injuries do not qualify for medical marijuana under New Jersey law.
I qualify for a medical marijuana card in New Jersey because I continue to have severe chronic neuropathic pain from my cancer treatment. However, a New Jersey patient with the same or even more severe chronic pain symptoms as mine would not qualify for medical marijuana unless their symptoms were caused by one of the short list of qualifying conditions. To me, knowing how medical marijuana greatly eases my pain, this disparity seems needlessly cruel and utterly arbitrary. People who are left out include many of the most vulnerable patients, for example, veterans suffering from chronic pain from amputation or other severe sustained injury. And New Jersey is also failing our veterans by not including PTSD as a qualifying condition. Repeatedly, patients contact me or other CMMNJ board members to tell us about their rare – or not-so-rare – medical conditions, and to ask for help obtaining a card legally. My heart breaks every time I have to tell a patient in this situation that New Jersey does not recognize their condition, so they cannot participate in the medical marijuana program. Incredibly, this even happens to terminally ill patients if they may have more than a year to live.
CMMNJ has lobbied continually to add qualifying conditions, to no avail. Even in our other efforts where advocates have been successful, such as creating an allowance for cannabis oil, the program moves so slowly that patients may not benefit for years. And the patients who need this the most, often do not have years to wait. In short, patients are dying while they wait for the program to catch up with their needs. It is no wonder that so many seek marijuana on the black market. And the alternative – obeying the law and not using marijuana – continues to cause needless suffering.
Legalizing marijuana in New Jersey has the potential to remedy many of these issues. No one should go to jail for marijuana, and we should all be aware than many of the people currently risking jail time are simply trying to find relief from their pain in the only way they are able in our state.