Loosening some of the reins on medical marijuana is long overdue, and we urge panel members to enter the process with an open mind and a willingness to broaden the potential to bring relief to those in pain.
If they do, it will mark a significant contrast to most anything we’ve seen from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, which has been reluctant to implement the program from the start and has thrown up repeated obstacles that have effectively limited distribution.
Christie inherited the program from former Gov. Jon Corzine, who legalized medical marijuana but left office before any of the particulars of the new law had been put in place. That left Christie — an opponent of legalization — to oversee the details, providing ample opportunity for delay while establishing new regulations.
There was little point to the foot-dragging other than to burnish Christie’s conservative credentials in opposing any form of pot legalization. The governor continues to cling to the widely discredited argument of marijuana as a gateway drug leading to more addictive and more lethal substances. The end result was to deny relief to patients experiencing chronic pain from certain medical conditions, relief that should have been available to them under the law, except for the implementation delays.
Even now, however, patient advocates say New Jersey’s medical marijuana program is needlessly restrictive, failing to include many health issues that should be covered by the law. That’s what Wednesday’s meeting of the Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel could help correct. The hearing is an outgrowth of a 2014 lawsuit that challenged the unacceptably long implementation process.
In July the state health department sought written requests for illnesses to be added to the eligibility list, and among those offered were conditions generating chronic pain such as osteoarthritis and Lyme disease. In September Christie surprised many by making medical marijuana available to post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers, the first new condition added under the law.
The review panel should follow that lead, even if Christie would rather it not. We’ve come a long way in our understanding of the pros and cons of marijuana use for medicinal purpose. Public support to broaden legalization continues to grow across the nation. We continue to oppose it in New Jersey, although attempts to legalize it here are sure to intensify once Christie leaves office.
In the meantime, however, many New Jerseyans with chronic pain can receive the kind of relief from medicinal marijuana they cannot get from any other drug. In many cases pot does a better job reducing the pain, and without unwanted side effects. Limiting its benefits because of outdated notions about the dangers of marijuana use is misguided.
The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Trenton, at the War Memorial, Turning Point Conference Room at 1 Memorial Drive.