My late wife Cheryl and I were the first and only medical marijuana advocate/activists in New Jersey until the late ‘90’s. Cheryl had primary progressive multiple sclerosis, the “bad kind”. We spent the first two years of our advocacy from 1990 to 1993 dealing with the federal government’s closure of the federal program that was supplying 300 joints per month to a handful of medical cannabis patients. Then we turned our attention to the NJ legislature in 1993. Our original cause was getting NJ state law to recognize the legitimacy of patients using cannabis as medicine by extending the trigger point for “intending to distribute” charges being brought against those who possessed more than 50 grams while using it as medicine. Making cannabis butter for Cheryl meant acquiring well over that amount when possible to ensure maximum dose per dollar. I did consider advocating for state law legalizing cannabis as medicine then because there were no states openly contemplating enacting state laws at that time.
I pushed Cheryl’s wheelchair across the state in 1993 with signs that said “Medical Marijuana for MS” and “from Seaside to Trenton” to get the attention of an otherwise uninvolved NJ media. Subsequently, Gov. Florio’s Commissioner of Health Bruce Seigel made inquiries for us at the federal level, validating the creative original tactic that also generated television coverage. Since then I have honed my style for over a quarter century. I find legislators’ weak spots on a playing field that otherwise has natural disadvantages built in for patient/advocates. Legislator will be most moved to engage patients if they see a possibility that their transgressions will be held on display for the public as well as the NJ media to scrutinize. I have a begrudging respect from many NJ legislators who I have crossed paths with and others who quite aware of who I am and of the lengths I have gone to get something done. The same can be said for Jo Anne Zito due to her stellar efforts promoting home cultivation for adults to be included in last years’ legalization effort. She has established valuable inroads and the deserved trust of patients and legislators alike. If patients and supporters can trust the process we establish, we can speak with a previously unattainable unified voice. Legislators will be made aware from the beginning that this effort is a coordinated Jo Anne Zito/Jim Miller event, not a scattershot approach. But that is just the beginning.
Picture any NJ legislator receiving multiple patient/constituent coordinated emails about patient home cultivation rights (even two will start to get their attention) as well as other legislators getting the same from their own constituents as well. Then picture those coordinated emails containing compelling individual personal accounts from their constituent/patients about their individual personal ramifications of going broke while still not being able to afford their physician recommended allotment of their medicine. Many may even include selfie video attachments that will open a new window of reality to some legislators. Now imagine those legislators finding out that transcripts of all of those emails from patients are being posted on letpatientsgrownj.com, a website where they are listed according to district and legislative recipient. I will be working directly with participants in crafting a second email if a reply to the first is not received in less than 10 days, and THAT then gets posted on letpatientsgrownj.com as well. Any subsequent replies, or lack thereof, will also join that legislators’ paper trail for anyone to see, at any time they want to see it. Participants email transcripts on the website need only contain something like “Brian C. from Lavallette” as identification of the constituent taking part in this effort.
Medical cannabis patients have never really had other options to speak to legislators in a unified voice other than to sign an online petition or a group letter/email of some sort, without ever following up. That is where petitions and group letters usually stop, not requiring legislators to send any replies to any individual constituents. This is also where the “Let Patients Grow NJ” petition is different. It is a beginning, not a means to an end. It leads to step two. Signators then will have the opportunity continue on and take part in a coordinated email campaign between themselves and their district representation in the NJ senate and assembly, with the purpose of speaking with one voice.