November 16, 2015

Chairman Scutari and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to address this issue.

My name is Ken Wolski. I am Executive Director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey, Inc. (CMMNJ) I am a registered nurse with 39 years experience in New Jersey & Pennsylvania. I've studied the issue of medical marijuana for over 20 years. My resume is included in the packet of material I have provided to the committee, along with some recent articles I have published on the subject. I have also included testimony from people who could not be here today.

New Jersey's Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP) is a failure. When the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA) passed into law in Jan., 2010, the Legislature found and declared that:

  • there was “beneficial use for marijuana in treating or alleviating the pain or other symptoms associated with certain debilitating medical conditions” and,
  • that this “law will have the practical effect of protecting from arrest the vast majority of seriously ill people who have a medical need to use marijuana.”

That has simply not happened in the nearly 6 years since this bill became law.

  • Only five (5) ATCs are open--that's like having 5 pharmacies in the entire state;
  • about 350 doctors are in the MMP--out of over 30,000 physicians in the state; and,
  • about 5000 patients have MMP ID cards, in a state with almost 9 million people.

Marijuana has enormous therapeutic potential, but,

  • Most people who could benefit from marijuana therapy do not have one of the severely limited qualifying conditions;
  • Those who do have a qualifying condition find the application process and/or the Regulations too difficult, or too time-consuming to manage; and,
  • Even those who manage to get an ID card find the program too expensive to afford.

The Department of Health was empowered by the legislation to add qualifying conditions at any time, but they are still not even accepting applications to do so.

Who are the patients who can benefit from marijuana therapy? The remarkable diversity of therapeutic effects of marijuana often make me shake my head in disbelief.

In 1993 I met an asthma patient who told me that smoking marijuana was the only thing that helped his asthma. This went against everything that I believed and taught for the first 17 years that I was a nurse. I repeatedly cautioned asthma patients to avoid any kind of smoke because it might trigger an asthma attack, which can be fatal. Then other asthma patients told me the same thing. Then I read a study that showed that the bronchodilator effects of marijuana along with the anti-anxiety effects overcame the irritant effects of the smoke. Now I believe that smoking marijuana can help some asthma patients.

In 2003 I met Cheryl Miller who was dying of multiple sclerosis while waging a nationwide campaign for medical marijuana. She died a few months after I met her and there was a memorial service for her in Washington, D.C. a little after that. At the service, I met a woman from California who had MS and who was in a wheelchair, as the MS had already paralyzed her legs. This woman told me a remarkable thing. She said, "Ken, when I smoke marijuana, my MS stops getting worse." I didn't believe that was possible. Yet five years later, in 2008, the National MS Society published an Expert Opinion Paper that said marijuana is neuroprotective and that it may delay or even stop the progression of these incurable neurological conditions like MS. I've suspended my disbelief when I hear remarkable stories of marijuana's therapeutic usefulness.

Consider the range of diseases, symptoms and conditions that New Jersey recognizes marijuana as useful for:

  • Seizures
  • Glaucoma
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Neurological conditions
  • Bowel conditions like Crohn's Disease
  • HIV/AIDS and Cancer, if chronic pain, nausea or the wasting syndrome
  • Any terminal illness if there's less than 12 months to live.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of physical conditions, besides AIDS and cancer, that are characterized by chronic pain, nausea, or the wasting syndrome.

Plus, there are a host of mental and emotional conditions that can be helped by marijuana therapy. Twenty-two (22) veterans commit suicide every day in the U.S. because PTSD is so poorly managed by traditional pharmaceuticals, yet marijuana shows great promise in the management of this condition. One of the cannabinoids in marijuana, CBD, is being used with great success in Europe in treating schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder, crippling anxiety, and Attention Deficit Disorder can also be managed with marijuana.

Marijuana can do all these remarkable things because scientists have recently discovered the system in the human body that interacts with cannabinoids, the components of marijuana. The system is called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and it is, in part, a series of receptors in every organ of the body for cannabinoids. The pharmaceutical industry is developing synthetic drugs to manipulate this system and the federal government has a patent on the neuroprotective and antiinflammatory components of this system.

Yet the ECS is only mentioned in 14% of the medical schools in the U.S.

There are hundreds of thousands of people in New Jersey who could benefit from marijuana therapy--perhaps a million or more. After all, if you live in the Garden State, you have a 1 in 3 chance of having a cancer diagnosis at some point in your life. You have a 1 in 3 chance of having chronic pain--pain that lasts 6 months or more. We all die, and marijuana helps with some of the common problem associated with terminal illnesses like no other drug.

This is why CMMNJ endorsed legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. It is the most efficient and effective way to get the therapeutic benefits of marijuana to the vast number of patients who can benefit from it.

CMMNJ believes that marijuana legalization here is inevitable--it's just a question of time. But we need to learn from the failures of the MMP. We need to empower people to produce their own medicine. Home cultivation of a limited amount of marijuana could have a very positive effect on the public health of New Jersey residents. It ensures access to the benefits of this plant, regardless of income status. It can slash health care costs significantly by reducing the need for expensive pharmaceuticals, hospitalizations, and surgical procedures. In states with home cultivation there is a 25% reduction in opiate overdose deaths. The very act of growing a living plant can have a positive effect on a dying person. The NJ State Senate already approved home cultivation in Feb., 2009 when he CUMMA was working its way through the legislature. This time, let's make sure we keep home cultivation as part of the law to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in New Jersey.

Thank you for your attention.

Kenneth R. Wolski, RN, MPA