Has its time finally come for the Garden State?
Ocean City dermatologist Steven Fenichel was just a young intern in Toronto in the 1970s when he would have an experience with a patient that would impact him to this day, at the age of 63.
Then in oncology, he had a patient with testicular cancer. The cancer was treatable, but at a severe price to the patient.
“That’s a curable form of cancer if you go through the regimen and the chemotherapy treatments,” Fenichel tells Atlantic City Weekly. “But this patient reacted very violently to the treatment. He was vomiting and retching to the point that he was ripping up his insides. He then refused the chemo treatment.”
But in the ’70s, as today, another less legal treatment was out there, and somehow, the patient did manage to find a drug that was thought of as recreational — marijuana.
However the substance was acquired, Fenichel could not argue with the results.
“It had a very dramatic effect on this patient,” he says. “Eventually, it calmed down his reactions to the point that he could stand the chemo. This young man had been prescribed all types of anti-nausea drugs and treatments. When he finally could take the chemo treatment, the doctors said, ‘Well, the drugs must have worked.’ He said, ‘Not your drugs. They didn’t work at all.’”
Fenichel may not have known it at the time, but this and observations of other patients — especially one patient with Multiple Sclerosis, who dramatically gained muscle control when using marijuana — through the years would make him a proponent of medical marijuana and one of many voices pushing the state to stop delaying and finally make New Jersey the 14th state in the nation to offer the treatment.
The issue came to a head this week when the New Jersey State Senate voted to overturn rules recently proposed by Gov. Chris Christie to govern the growing and sale of medical marijuana.
Former Gov. Jon Corzine actually signed a medical marijuana bill in New Jersey into law shortly before leaving office, but implementation has been delayed as the Christie administration reviewed regulations.
Christie proposed the new rules earlier this month in a compromise with Democratic majority leaders that caught some legislators off guard. The amended rules immediately set off a wave of controversy. The Senate vote gives the administration 30 days to further amend the rules.
At the center of the controversy are proposed rules to limit the amount of THC, or the marijuana’s potency, how and when marijuana can be prescribed, and the number of cultivation and distribution centers that will be allowed.
Many advocates felt Christie’s restrictions would actually stop patients from getting the treatment they need. They found an ally in Sen. Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Linden), who sponsored the recent measure to have the rules reworked.
“The administration has tried painstakingly to make the medical marijuana regulations as prohibitive as possible for patients,” said Scutari. “It’s time the governor and his administration stopped creating unnecessary delays to our medical marijuana program and put forward regulations that comply with the law, so we can finally get relief to the sick and dying patients who so desperately need it.”
Christie, however, pushed for the rules out of fears that the medical marijuana law would be subverted by those looking to use the drug for recreational purposes.
“Working together, we have come to an agreement that will prevent further delay to patients who need relief from the symptoms of debilitating illnesses,” Christie said in a statement. “At the same time, we are protecting the interests of all residents of the state of New Jersey by preventing some of the abuses that we have seen in other states.”
States such as California have had major problems with their medical marijuana laws, with widespread reports of abuse.
Christie has labeled the Senate measure as playing “politics” with a major health issue. Under the governor’s proposed regulations, six regional centers — two each in the north, central and southern parts of the state — would be authorized to grow and distribute marijuana.
But part of the debate is clearly the stigma surrounding the use of marijuana. Even though many patients being treated for pain and nausea, and quite often terminally ill patients, are regularly prescribed narcotics and painkillers that are often also abused, marijuana seems to carry a special social nervousness.
Currently, the rules would limit the THC content to 10 percent (THC levels in illegally sold marijuana can vary greatly, but is often stronger than 10 percent), which advocates say is not strong enough to help patients. Christie’s new proposals did not raise that level.
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