NJ’s medical marijuana policy weeds out casual users

by Connor Danik
On January 11, 2010, New Jersey became the 14th state out of an eventual 18 to pass legislation legalizing the use of marijuana for medical reasons. After a year and a half, on August 9, 2012, qualified patients could register for the medicinal marijuana program. Four months later, New Jersey’s first prescription-marijuana dispensary, Greenleaf Compassion Center, opened in Montclair.
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In order to obtain medical marijuana in New Jersey, a patient has to register with the State of New Jersey Medical Marijuana program and meet specific qualifications.
First, the patient must maintain a relationship for at least a year with a physician for the care, assessment and treatment of an approved debilitating condition. The physician also has to be registered with New Jersey’s medicinal marijuana program.
Conditions that may be treated include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel disease and terminal illnesses if there is a prognosis of less than 12 months of life. Additional conditions, such as seizure disorders and glaucoma, are on the list only if the patient is resistant to conventional treatments. Patients under 18 years of age can register for the program under the supervision of an adult custodian.
New Jersey is one of only four states that do not allow home cultivation of medicinal marijuana. Eligible patients must obtain their medicinal marijuana from a certified dispensary. In addition to Montclair’s, five other dispensaries are set to open in NJ.
It costs $200 to register for the medical marijuana program, less for patients on public assistance, and the registration is good for up to two years. No current health care plans, including Medicaid, cover the cost of the registration fee or the marijuana itself. Each dispensary designates its own prices, with the average cost about $80 per ounce nationwide. The law allows patients to use a maximum of two ounces in a 30-day period.
Despite the fact that medical marijuana is legal in many states, the debate over its benefits and dangers engulfs the country. In some cases, medical marijuana has been safer than prescribed medications in treating symptoms such as profound loss of appetite and certain kinds of recurring pain, but opponents argue that there has not been enough research to back these claims. Further, smoking marijuana for medical purposes comes with side effects that could negatively affect short-term memory and cognitive ability. Marijuana itself contains potentially cancer-causing compounds, and experts in addiction fear its habit-forming qualities.
“If you look at recent studies where medical marijuana has been legalized, there has been an increase in mental illness. Those who use medical marijuana have a two-to-five greater chance of developing a mental illness,” said substance abuse coordinator Liz Knodel Gordon. “Studies show that whenever a state passes a bill to legalize marijuana, we see a spike in adolescent use.”
Another posed problem is the effect on teens. By legalizing marijuana, the unwanted outcome is that teens might see smoking marijuana as safe.
Although it is regulated, the circulation of marijuana in the state may also cause adverse effects.
“Although the legalization of medical marijuana will still make recreational smoking illegal, it may make it easier for teens to gain access to the drug,” said junior John Horre.
The debate about legal medical marijuana is far from over.
“I think it would take a long time for all states to eventually legalize the drug.” said sophomore Alyssa Gilman. “The drug does have benefits, however the legislation would mislead teenagers into thinking that marijuana is completely harmless.”
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