By Michael Hill
New Jersey will grow more marijuana, dispensaries and its list of accepted ailments for medical cannabis treatment. And the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey says it’s long overdue.
“We believe that the program was really shortened to begin with and it really should have included more qualifying conditions. As a matter of fact the original bill included chronic pain for any reason but when the bill passed into law, chronic pain is only a qualifying condition for cancer and AIDS,” said Coalition Executive Director Ken Wolski.
But, the state health commissioner says a panel of medical and scientific professionals and researchers will convene soon and decide how many more conditions to include for medical marijuana treatment in New Jersey.
“Well at this point not sure how many different diseases would be recommended or petitioned to the panel. That would depend on the public and what they bring forth,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd.
There’s no question the state Health Department will get plenty of petitions to add other diseases, disorders and ailments to the list of those that qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions and treatment. But some doctors say tread very carefully. And some say don’t tread at all.
“I think that the best way to do it if we’re considering it as a medication is to go through the well-established channels of an application to the Food and Drug Administration of review and extended review and back and forth before we can actually give an approval, not this back door medicine,” said Dr. Petros Levounis, chair of the Psychiatry Department at Rutgers Newark.
“So long as the federal government deems this product as illegal, the only option to provide access to it is for the states to implement programs independently,” O’Dowd said.
Dr. Fani Thomson is registered in New Jersey to prescribe marijuana at the Valley Institute for Pain.
“I feel as though many patients will obtain the marijuana without properly being diagnosed. They may have diagnosis by someone who’s not properly credentialed to give that diagnosis and I feel as though it may allow more patients to obtain the marijuana who do not actually have the proper diagnosis,” Dr. Thomson said.
“I think that one of the things we’ve done well in the state of New Jersey is to build this program in the medical format and having physicians part of that process in order to make sure that they have evaluated the patient and made sure that they are appropriate for the prescription or the registration for access to medicinal marijuana. We have to rely on our providers to be responsible,” O’Dowd said.
Lawmakers have given the Department of Health the authority to add qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The ultimate decision — with veto power — rests with Commissioner O’Dowd.