Access to medical marijuana varies greatly state by state – and while some are very similar and offer medical marijuana to patients with any of dozens of conditions of varying degrees of severity, others are far more restrictive in both the people who have access and the type of cannabis products they are able to medicate with, as well as in what quantities.
New Jersey is definitely one of the more conservative states when it comes to which patients are allowed to use medical marijuana with a physician’s recommendation, only having added one condition (post-traumatic stress disorder) in the last seven years since the MMJ laws were first passed. However, by this fall, thousands more patients could be gaining access to cannabis treatment for several conditions such as chronic pain, Tourette syndrome, asthma, and opioid use disorder, among others.
Aside from Gov. Christie breaking character and signing a bill last year to add PTSD to the list there has been no change since it first became legal in 2010. The only reason new conditions are being considered now is because of a judge’s ruling in a 2014 court case, where the judge ordered an annual report – the one being written now – based off patients petitioning to have their conditions included on the list. This year they will be considering 45 petitions in total, many of which can be categorized as chronic pain.
“My access to marijuana has to be done in secret, in hiding, with the stigma that I’m breaking the law every time I purchase medicine that is legally permitted to be dispensed for symptoms similar to mine in so many other states,” said Marco Esquandolas of Woodbury, who uses medical marijuana for sciatica related pain. “Legal access to medical marijuana is giving people like myself options and safer choices for treatment without fear of incarceration or simply wanting to have a better quality of life.”
That testimony and many others were heard by the Medical Marijuana Review Panel, who are only the first step in a long process for adding these conditions to the list of those qualifying a patient for medical marijuana in New Jersey. From here, the panel has 60 days to submit a report to the Department of Health, then there will be a public review session for a period of five months before a final determination is made by Department of Health Commissioner, Cathleen Bennett. At that point, any conditions that are approved by Bennett will be added to the list, and those patients will finally be able to begin the process of medicating legally.
“We have a big problem in America today with opiates being widely prescribed for chronic pain with in fact not very good evidence that opiates are good at the management of chronic pain,” Jenison said. “So we’re really struggling for finding other ways of providing relief to people that have less problems than opiates – less of an addiction problem and better results.”
Out of all the conditions being added to the list, generalized chronic pain is bound to be the one that helps the most patients, providing access to a wide range of people suffering from pain on a daily basis who want relief that doesn’t lead to addiction. Considering studies that show medical marijuana legalization may reduce opiate use, adding chronic pain to the list of conditions could greatly decrease the number of people in the state becoming hooked on prescription pain medications, or accidentally overdosing.