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Going Nowhere On Medical Marijuana


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MARY E. O'Dowd, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Senior Services, attempted to defend the state's actions, or lack thereof, in "Medicinal pot program must be done right" (Other Views, Jan. 25).


However, the original plan, designed to be a serious and legitimate medically driven plan to benefit a narrow list of qualified patients, based on science and medical consensus, has so far failed to deliver.


I agree the DHSS needs to proceed cautiously. However, the two-year delay is not "cautiously proceeding"; it is seriously impeding implementation of the law. This is unacceptable.


In two full years not one patient has benefited from medical cannabis. Not one patient has registered. Not one patient has even been able to apply to register. No physician has authorized a single "prescription."


Two years have passed, and a patient of mine is going to prison for five years for self-medicating in treating his documented multiple sclerosis.


Two years after the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law, we have an enforcement-led barrier to medical marijuana instead of access to physician-supervised, safe, legal access to a viable medical treatment.


I do not belittle the capabilities or public service of O' Dowd and John O'Brien, director of the plan and a retired New Jersey state police officer. But neither is a physician, as were the authors of the program, Susan Walsh and Poonam Alaigh. The key administrators of a medical cannabis program should be physicians, public health masters or some other qualified medical personnel — not former state police officers.


After all, this program is about the health of those who are caring for, or are themselves, someone who is sick.


Furthermore, the wording of the regulations have stubbornly resisted hardly a tweak to address essential flaws in the program. For example, the state's 10 percent limit on tetrahydrocannabinol strains and its limit on biodiversity are unscientific, unhealthy and arbitrary restrictions.


The only thing the DHSS has done promptly was to select the six alternative treatment centers. Now, the state is doing background checks. But how long does that take? What has the DHSS found so far? Why weren't the bona fides ascertained before the selection process? Transparency has been deficient.


Only one ATC is "nearing completion." But none has started yet, none has plants in cultivation, none has seedlings growing and none has patients to serve.


Had the DHSS originally chosen ATC applications from organizations more heavily vested in their community then perhaps the vetting process would have been completed by now and more ATC operators would be ready.


Medical conditions that would be eligible for treatment with medical marijuana are defined too narrowly. They are too restrictive and fail to consider up-to-date science and even a cautious medical consensus. Inclusion of additional indications was supposed to begin two years after the law was written. Well, two years have passed.


I see a small number of patients for whom use of medical marijuana would be appropriate; however, they do not have the few clinical conditions that allow safe access. Some of these patients have serious, debilitating chronic pain. Others have psychiatric illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. How does a physician-prescriber approach these patients? Are they to be helped? Or shall the state obstruct their care?


Well, the answer to that dilemma is straightforward.


Who's in charge of the program?







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