The Wait for Medical Marijuana in NJ Frustrates Terminally Ill Patients

BY BARBARA WILLIAMS
The Record
STAFF WRITER

John Ammirati needs marijuana to ease the symptoms of his terminal illness, he says, but whether it will be available by January, as outlined by state law, remains unclear.

Health officials must complete a multistep process before the controversial law can be implemented and aren’t committing to any deadline. They have less than five months to get a system up and running that will allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes, yet two definitive questions loom: Who will grow the marijuana? And where will it be dispensed?

Ammirati, who is battling Ewing’s sarcoma and is distraught over the initial plan for legalized medical marijuana being postponed from October to January, said he can’t imagine what will happen to him and others if the drug isn’t available at the start of 2011. He’s lost 50 pounds to the rare bone cancer that attacks his face.

“This delay is killing me,” said Ammirati, of Lyndhurst. “I need pot so I can eat and I’m broke and can’t afford to buy it on the streets.”

But state Department of Health and Senior Services must set up regulations that include designating a marijuana supplier, authorizing places to dispense it and creating a system for patient registry. Once the plan is crafted, it must be made available for public input before being finalized.

No timeline has been established yet, said Donna Leusner, director of communications for the state Health Department.

“We’re working diligently to create regulations that will spell out how the process will work and then present it to the public for comment,” Leusner said.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Jon Corzine in January, called for at least six non-profit alternative treatment centers to dispense the cannabis. Though the law is more restrictive than the 13 other states that allow marijuana use for medical purposes, Governor Christie requested an extension on the implementation date in the spring so authorities could have more control over the distribution process.

Christie supported a proposal by the New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals that Rutgers University grow the marijuana and that the 16 largest of the state’s 40 teaching hospitals dispense it.

Rutgers, however, dropped out of the proposal, citing the possibility of losing federal funding since growing, possessing and using marijuana is against federal law.

One of the sponsors of the law, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Princeton, said he was surprised and disappointed in Rutgers’ decision.

“This is a missed opportunity for Rutgers,” Gusciora said. “Teachers and students could have been involved in studies of pain management and other issues. As for federal funding, Rutgers could have just applied for a waiver. The U.S. attorney general has said he will take a hands-off approach and veterans will now be able to get marijuana.”

Opponents of the plan note, however, that no university or other supplier has received a waiver from the federal government.

Despite Rutgers’ position, the hospitals council still wants the hospitals to hand out the drug, spokesman Don Sico said.

“We’re researching the notion of liability and what would have to happen so the hospitals can dispense it,” Sico said. “We have secure facilities, pharmacies to study the issues and look at outcomes, and are able to do this. We’re still in conversation with the governor’s office and administration.”

Leusner declined to say what facilities or non-profits are being considered as dispensaries.

Once the program is in place, patients with a physician-signed certificate will be able to get up to 2 ounces a month to alleviate symptoms from a number of illnesses including cancer, HIV, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel disease, seizure disorder, glaucoma and intractable skeletal muscular spasticity. They will be able to use the drug to offset symptoms such as severe pain, vomiting, nausea and wasting syndrome.

“For some people, marijuana is really the best medicine to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life, especially if they don’t have a long time left with their family,” said Roseanne Scotti, executive director of the New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance. “We know it’s not going to be available on Jan. 1 — it might even take another year before patients will actually have it in hand, but I believe the Health Department is making a good-faith effort to put the best plan in place.”

For Ammirati, 52, that day can’t come fast enough. Diagnosed six years ago with the cancer that forms tumors on his face, he has endured 28 hours of reconstructive surgery and five rounds of chemotherapy. Just as he did when he was receiving chemo treatments, Ammirati said he needs marijuana to help stoke his hunger and quash his constant nausea.

“I know if I could eat I would feel stronger,” Ammirati said. “The marijuana also takes away a lot of my pain — these tumors under my skin are the size of jawbreakers and my stomach lining was ripped during chemo, so I have a lot of pain. This is not for my amusement — when I inhale it eases my pain immediately.”

John Ammirati of Lyndhurst, was diagnosed with bone cancer six years ago and has lost 50 pounds.  He says the best thing to stimulate his appetite and suppress his pain is marijuana.

KEVIN R.WEXLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
John Ammirati of Lyndhurst, was diagnosed with bone cancer six years ago and has lost 50 pounds. He says the best thing to stimulate his appetite and suppress his pain is marijuana.

Health officials must complete a multistep process before the controversial law can be implemented and aren’t committing to any deadline. They have less than five months to get a system up and running that will allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes, yet two definitive questions loom: Who will grow the marijuana? And where will it be dispensed?

Ammirati, who is battling Ewing’s sarcoma and is distraught over the initial plan for legalized medical marijuana being postponed from October to January, said he can’t imagine what will happen to him and others if the drug isn’t available at the start of 2011. He’s lost 50 pounds to the rare bone cancer that attacks his face.

“This delay is killing me,” said Ammirati, of Lyndhurst. “I need pot so I can eat and I’m broke and can’t afford to buy it on the streets.”

Slow Going

Legislation approving at least six non-profit alternative treatment centers to dispense medical marijuana in New Jersey was approved in January. The implementation date has been delayed until January 2011. Before the law goes into effect, the State Department of Health and Senior Services must:

* Set up regulations that include designating a marijuana supplier.

* Authorize places to dispense marijuana.

* Create a system for patient registry.

* Once the plan is crafted, it will be subject to public input before it’s finalized.

But state Department of Health and Senior Services must set up regulations that include designating a marijuana supplier, authorizing places to dispense it and creating a system for patient registry. Once the plan is crafted, it must be made available for public input before being finalized.

No timeline has been established yet, said Donna Leusner, director of communications for the state Health Department.

“We’re working diligently to create regulations that will spell out how the process will work and then present it to the public for comment,” Leusner said.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Jon Corzine in January, called for at least six non-profit alternative treatment centers to dispense the cannabis. Though the law is more restrictive than the 13 other states that allow marijuana use for medical purposes, Governor Christie requested an extension on the implementation date in the spring so authorities could have more control over the distribution process.

Christie supported a proposal by the New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals that Rutgers University grow the marijuana and that the 16 largest of the state’s 40 teaching hospitals dispense it.

Rutgers, however, dropped out of the proposal, citing the possibility of losing federal funding since growing, possessing and using marijuana is against federal law.

One of the sponsors of the law, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Princeton, said he was surprised and disappointed in Rutgers’ decision.

“This is a missed opportunity for Rutgers,” Gusciora said. “Teachers and students could have been involved in studies of pain management and other issues. As for federal funding, Rutgers could have just applied for a waiver. The U.S. attorney general has said he will take a hands-off approach and veterans will now be able to get marijuana.”

Opponents of the plan note, however, that no university or other supplier has received a waiver from the federal government.

Despite Rutgers’ position, the hospitals council still wants the hospitals to hand out the drug, spokesman Don Sico said.

“We’re researching the notion of liability and what would have to happen so the hospitals can dispense it,” Sico said. “We have secure facilities, pharmacies to study the issues and look at outcomes, and are able to do this. We’re still in conversation with the governor’s office and administration.”

Leusner declined to say what facilities or non-profits are being considered as dispensaries.

Once the program is in place, patients with a physician-signed certificate will be able to get up to 2 ounces a month to alleviate symptoms from a number of illnesses including cancer, HIV, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel disease, seizure disorder, glaucoma and intractable skeletal muscular spasticity. They will be able to use the drug to offset symptoms such as severe pain, vomiting, nausea and wasting syndrome.

“For some people, marijuana is really the best medicine to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life, especially if they don’t have a long time left with their family,” said Roseanne Scotti, executive director of the New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance. “We know it’s not going to be available on Jan. 1 — it might even take another year before patients will actually have it in hand, but I believe the Health Department is making a good-faith effort to put the best plan in place.”

For Ammirati, 52, that day can’t come fast enough. Diagnosed six years ago with the cancer that forms tumors on his face, he has endured 28 hours of reconstructive surgery and five rounds of chemotherapy. Just as he did when he was receiving chemo treatments, Ammirati said he needs marijuana to help stoke his hunger and quash his constant nausea.

“I know if I could eat I would feel stronger,” Ammirati said. “The marijuana also takes away a lot of my pain — these tumors under my skin are the size of jawbreakers and my stomach lining was ripped during chemo, so I have a lot of pain. This is not for my amusement — when I inhale it eases my pain immediately.”

http://www.northjersey.com/news/health/100961804_Wait_for_medical_marijuana_continues.html