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June 8, 2006 - Asbury Park Press (NJ)

Senate Committee Takes Up Medical Marijuana

By Tom Baldwin, Gannett State Bureau

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TRENTON -- TV personality Montel Williams, who says he daily breaks the law by medicating himself with marijuana, presaged emotionally charged testimony expected today when New Jersey, for the first time, considers allowing prescribed pot.

"I break the law every day. I will continue to break the law every day," a sometimes teary Williams told reporters at a Statehouse news conference where the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey -- which supports medical marijuana -- issued results of a poll it commissioned which showed support for their positions.

Today the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee will hear testimony, but not vote, on a proposal to allow seriously ill patients to possess one ounce of marijuana and six marijuana plants, if their doctor recommends it. The state would oversee the program and issue registration cards. In the poll, provided those specific descriptions of the rules, 71 percent of registered voters approved.

One sponsor is Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, who is a onetime prosecutor. "These people are not a threat to society," he said of the ill who seek salves for their pain. "We owe it to them to adopt a policy that places a premium on compassion and relief."

The Assembly version is jointly sponsored by two of the more liberal and more conservative lawmakers. Assemblyman Michael Carroll, R-Morris, usually stands spheres to the right of Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, but not on this issue.

"There is no such thing as an evil plant," Carroll says, noting medicines have always come from plants and that a decision to prescribe should be made by a doctor.

"It does not make sense for many of New Jersey's citizens to suffer when there is a viable way to ease their pain," Gusciora said.

Scutari said he felt the intent of the law was being trivialized by critics who suggested backers hoped to legalize recreational marijuana through a "back door." "Let's open a dialogue," Scutari said.

"The governor says that he will sign the bill, if it gets to him," he added.

Williams fought back tears as he described how marijuana eases night-and-day pain caused by multiple sclerosis, which the 49-year-old said was diagnosed with years ago.

Williams said he is a registered medical marijuana user in California. Ten other states allow similar prescription use.

Rating constant pain on a scale of 10, Williams said going marijuana-free leaves him suffering at level of six or seven, but with marijuana, he eases back to about four.

Glaucoma, some cancers, wasting syndromes, chronic unexplained pain and nagging muscle spasms have been said to be aided my properties in marijuana.

Backers and opponents presented conflicting polls on whether people in this state would OK use of marijuana as a medicine.

The Drug-Free Schools Coalition will also testify today. It followed Williams' appearance at the Statehouse Wednesday to point to poll results that conflicted with those from the Drug Policy Alliance and showed public support for the idea waning.

"Marijuana is intoxicating. There's no surprise that sincere people report feeling better after taking it. They may be feeling better, but they're not getting better," said Catharina Evans, whose father is a cancer survivor.

Evans acknowledged, in response to a question, that there are a number of drugs prescribed as painkillers that don't cure illnesses.

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