Senator Scutari Paper Trails

Dear Honorable Senator Nicholas Scutari,

The following letter was written prior to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, but due its immediate implications on patients accessing legal medical cannabis in the state, it is important to mention it here.

‘Officials have urged people to have a two-week supply of medication, but for patients who rely on medical marijuana, that’s not so easy. Purchase limits, shortages brought on by a growing number of patients in the small program and high costs all coalesce to make stocking up a challenge.’

‘If they get an infection there (ATC) and they have to shut down, there you’ve lost one-sixth of the supply. I can easily see more than one going down, and simply patients can’t get it by any means.”

Without home cultivation there was no access to legal medical cannabis for years and it’s still going on today with cannabis shortages at alternative treatment centers. Unreasonable pricing, cannabis strain variety or specific strain availability and quality and variety of cannabis products are still major issues patients face.

The COVID-19 protocols have exacerbated access and availability issues. Patients need legal access to their own plants now.

Jake’s Law recognizes registered patients’ right to this plant because of their medical necessity. Arresting registered patients or their caregivers for possessing a personal number of medicinal cannabis plants is not right. Currently possessing any number of plants in New Jersey is a felony and an arrest alone can be a death for some patients.

Because of the vagueness of the ballot question we don’t know if home growing cannabis will be legal. With legalization, access for patients will get worse before it gets better, as every state that has legalized cannabis has experienced shortages of legal medical cannabis and they all have medical home grow!

Could you imagine if they didn’t?

This is why Illinois’s cannabis legalization bill had provisions for medical home cultivation and why New York has it proposed in their legalization plan as well. Without these provisions some patients go without, risk arrest doing it anyway, go out of state or go to the illicit market, which is not regulated and could possibly expose patients to harmful products.

Frustrated with shortages, medical marijuana patients begin growing their own at home

Also seen in other states are delays and legal challenges in licensing. In New Jersey, there seems to be no end in licensing delays and legal challenges and that’s not good for patients since the plan to reduce prices is to wait for industry expansion. This leaves little hope for those with terminal conditions who’ve been recommended an unlimited supply, like medical cannabis activist, Jeff Oakes of Oceanport.

‘Over the last several years, he’s been seen all over New Jersey, attending municipal and town hall meetings, advocating for medical marijuana to become more easily accessible.

But the cancer has continued to spread, he said, metastasizing into his liver, and there is now a spot on his lungs.
His doctor, he said, has told him he may take as much (marijuana) as he needs. (New Jersey law allows this for terminal patients.)

“I can’t do chemo. I don’t have any medical options,” Oakes said. “My only treatment is medical cannabis.”’

Even the Health Commissioner stated the delays will harm patients.

‘“I find that staying the review of the ATC applications will cause [medical marijuana program] patients harm,” Judith Persichilli, the commissioner of the department, wrote in the denial.’

New N.J. medical marijuana dispensaries on hold as another rejected applicant sues

Patients could've had their first harvest since Jake's Law has passed, let alone until prices become more affordable and products become more available. And with the recent NJ Supreme Court ruling, saying registered patients can’t get fired for a cannabis positive drug screen, patient numbers will likely grow faster than the program can provide for.

Making patients wait for expansion is inhumane and unjust!

This is what Senator Sweeney had to say about it almost a year ago.

“The goal of the medical marijuana expansion legislation is to specifically address the need of those who would benefit from greater access. The expansion bill would provide for this greater access in ways that would address all the medicinal needs of patients," Sweeney said in a statement. “Home cultivation would not be necessary as access expands, producing a change in the market that will drive down costs.”

At the rate the program is expanding, it will take years and lives lost to achieve the affordability and availability Jake’s Law offer s. And it’s not only for those issues, but about legally protecting patients and allowing other health benefits a medicinal garden can provide people, like helping reduce depression and anxiety.

“I’m personally not against home grow, but we have to walk before we can run.” You said, but in most medical cannabis states, medical home grow was the first step they took for access.

If we are looking for ways to support reduced-priced access, why are we still denying this common solution?

We are only asking for the six plant possession for patients provided in the original Compassionate Use Act that fourteen current senators voted in favor of it over a decade ago.

4. a. (1) A qualifying patient shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including, but not limited to, civil penalty or disciplinary action by a professional licensing board, for the medical use of marijuana, provided that the patient possesses a registry identification card and no more than six marijuana plants.

If a patient cannot grow their own then they may designate their caregiver or a caregiver grower to grow for them.

For the eighteen states that allow medical cannabis home cultivation, including the eleven plus Washington, DC that have legalized cannabis for adult use, the issue isn’t that complicated. Programs vary, but generally most allow for six plants leaving little room for diversion.

In trying to understand why such a compassionate provision was left out of Jake’s Law (CUMCA) I refer to a New Jersey State Democrats media page that reports, ‘The senator (Scutari) said he plans to use the lessons learned from the delegation trip to finalize his legislation for introduction and will address two areas based on feedback he received from state officials and others, including: (1) more tightly regulating home grown marijuana and (2) merging the state’s medical and recreational marijuana programs to create a single regulatory program.’

And In March of 2018, you were quoted in a USA Today article on the matter saying, “There are simply too many problems to solve: What if the neighbors don't like it? What if a home grower sells some of their weed on the black market — the same black market that marijuana legalization is supposed to run out of business? Growing your own would not have the same testing procedures as these places that grow them under strict supervision. And we want to ensure that businesses have an opportunity to flourish."

Because the medical bill and legalization bill were tied together, home grow access was conflated and denied even for patients after the bills were separated, leaving patients at the mercy of the alternative treatment centers, the same industry who advised against it.

You’re basically saying business needs to flourish on the backs of our most sick.

And this doesn’t necessarily mean safer access, as the testing of NJ ATC medical cannabis has been quite limited for years and quality of product has long been an issue for many patients still.

‘Invariably, most of the product available from any licensed cannabis producer has harsh effects on the throat resulting in coughing and agitation to the airways. This is because the cannabis on the shelf of your local dispensary has not been properly “cured” prior to shipment.’

Properly Cured Cannabis is not Available from Licensed Producers

The concern that medical home grow it too difficult to police becomes somewhat irrelevant for registered patients and caregivers since the newly passed hemp law in New Jersey allows for an unlimited number of hemp production licenses, some on individuals’ home property and according to the Hemp Industries Association, the plants are indistinguishable from one another without testing for THC levels.

Patients and caregivers are already registered and the Department of Health or the Cannabis Regulatory Commission could provide plant tags or licenses for a reasonable fee. If the state charged a reasonable fee of $50 for a medical home grow license and a quarter of now 75,000 patients applied, the state could collect near $1 million.

When you went to Colorado to fact find, their laws were much more liberal than they are now. Actually, only months after your mission laws there changed significantly.

'Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says the state’s generous pot allowances make it almost impossible for cops to tell legitimate growers from black-market fronts, and he is calling for a several new laws to crack down. Proposals include a ban on group recreational pot grows and new paperwork requirements for people who grow medical pot.'

Patients want to know why possessing their own medicinal plants is such a third rail issue when it will actually greatly help implement the access that ninety-eight legislators were so eager to provide in voting yes to Jake’s Law.

Home cultivation systems have been modernized to be affordable, efficient and safe. Plus it supports ancillary business and jobs. And with home grow amended in Jake’s Law patients could more likely access the cannabis needed to make full extract cannabis oil (FECO), the real medicine many of them need.

’FECO oils are also used among cancer patients, epilepsy patients, multiple sclerosis patients and those with Parkinson’s disease, who choose to use medicinal cannabis as a treatment.’

When will the state sanctioned ATCs have that?

‘“If medical marijuana can ease some of the suffering of a patient who’s dying from a chronic, severe, or terminal disease, state government should not stand in the way of that relief,” Scutari said after the vote.’

Since the law is still standing in the way, we are asking for you to introduce, sponsor and help pass a stand-alone bill for patient plant possession / home cultivation for registered patients or their caregivers in New Jersey and we’d like it named after our friend and activist, Jeff Oakes.

Please do not delay as we’d like it to be in his honor, rather than his memory.

Although, Jeff Oakes is in Senator Declan O'Scanlon Jr.’s district, we feel it is your commitment to the registered patients that is needed to introduce and achieve this. We appreciate Senator O’Scanlon’s efforts for medical home grow last year, though we feel it was too narrow in its scope and favored some patients over others. Still, we look forward to his sponsorship of this bill in support of his constituent, Jeff.

I would like to speak with you or your staff to discuss this further, along with our Executive Director, Ken Wolski.

There is a website, Let Patients Grow NJ #JeffsLaw, created for this effort for supporters to interact over correspondence with their legislators. Please visit us.

Also for your reference, I have compiled a document with all the current home cultivation laws from all the states that allow cannabis home cultivation.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thank you,

Jo Anne Zito
Coalition for Medical Marijuana- New Jersey, Inc.