Panel Considers Adding Ailments Medical Marijuana Can Treat

February 22, 2017 | Health Care, Politics
A panel the NJ Health Department is considering whether to expand the qualifications to use medical marijuana.

By Erin Delmore

About a dozen medical conditions are currently approved for treatment with medical marijuana in New Jersey. A panel of medical experts is considering adding to that list.

“Chronic pain is the most frequent reason that patients use it in states where [it’s allowed],” said Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey. “I’m going to challenge the panel to justify how you can allow [it] for cancer, AIDS and not any other condition that [is accompanied by] chronic pain.”

The eight-person medical marijuana review panel is chaired by Dr. Alex Bekker of University Hospital in Newark.

“Most of us have some opinion already — reviewed literature, available evidence — especially for a condition like chronic pain. I think there’s a sufficient amount of evidence and documentations that medical marijuana can be very helpful,” Bekker said.

Today’s public hearing is the first time a panel convened by the Health Department is considering whether to expand the qualifications to use medical marijuana in the history of the state’s seven-year program. Panelists heard from residents suffering from migraines, fibromyalgia, Tourette syndrome and other ailments.

“My tics are both physically and mentally exhausting. When I tic, I cannot focus on anything else. It causes me to get distracted very easily and miss what’s going on around me. When I used cannabis for the first time, I felt like a completely new person. My tics lessened immediately and for a few hours, I felt like I could do anything,” said Maddie Pucciarello who has Tourette syndrome.

“Sometimes it feels as if somebody has taken a can of gasoline and they poured it on my body and they lit me on fire. It is that intense. But yet, RSD is not on the list for medical marijuana, or the use of it,” said Keisha Sanchez.

“He seizes all night long and like I said, he has horrific anxiety. His life’s a pure hell. I started him on cannabis in January, and today, he’s standing before you smiling,” said Cynthia O’Mullas whose son has disabilities.

Gov. Chris Christie approved the use of medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder last fall. Residents argued for expanding access to the program again, saying it could help stem the state’s opioid addiction crisis.

“Our current policy toward chronic pain, opioids and cannabis in this state, the whole country and the whole world even is literally making the opiate problem worse for most people,” said medical marijuana advocate Andrew Liberte.

The panel will make its determination in the next 60 days. That will trigger another public review session. Then, the panel will present its final determination to the commissioner of the Department of Health. That’s expected this summer.