Altered States: Medical Pot In Nj, Pa

Posted: November 28, 2011

YOUR GRANDMA in New Jersey has terminal cancer and, sorry, so does your grandma in Pennsylvania.

Sometime in the near future, a doctor might be able to prescribe Jersey Grandma some medical marijuana there. But if Jersey Grandma starts using it and finds herself in one of Philadelphia's esteemed hospitals later for an extended stay, her doctors will face a newfangled predicament.

"What do you do if the patient is using marijuana and has it on them? We would have to tell them to stop it and cause more pain?" asked Dr. Curtis Miyamoto, a board member of the Philadelphia County Medical Society and chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Temple University Hospital. "We would be putting patients in a very difficult situation."

New Jersey's medical-marijuana law has been criticized by advocates for being restrictive, confined to patients with severe illnesses, but it passed. Although no dispensaries are up and running there, doctors are registering with the program to be able to write prescriptions. Marijuana advocates say that Pennsylvania's proposed law is more "compassionate" to people suffering from a wider variety of illnesses, but it's not even close to passing. They say that New Jersey's stance on medical marijuana hasn't changed the mood in Harrisburg.

"There's not a single Republican in the Legislature who is willing to say he supports it," said state Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Phila., who introduced his bill in 2009. "Governor Corbett said he'd veto it."

New Jersey officials say that the state's medical-marijuana regulations will take effect Dec. 19, clearing the way for legal growing and dispensing operations to begin sometime next year.

The state Health and Senior Services Department posted a notice on its website Wednesday night saying that the regulations will be finalized.

The state says that it won't change any of the rules from the version made public earlier this year. Medical-marijuana advocates panned many of the details, including one that restricts the potency of pot in a way that no other state that allows medical marijuana has done so far.

Six nonprofit groups have licenses to grow and sell cannabis to patients, with certain conditions. But none has its final permit yet.

When New Jersey's medical-marijuana program is up and running, Pennsylvania grandma wouldn't have access to medical marijuana there because she's not a resident. She would have to cop reefer on the streets in Pennsylvania or get a real-estate agent.

"There will be people moving to New Jersey to take advantage of the law there," Cohen said. "I think that's clear."

Medical-marijuana advocates will take their victories, restrictive or not, but the larger issues they bring up, like state laws affecting theoretical grandmas differently, point to one solution.

"It's all patchwork and it needs to be uniform," said Chris Goldstein, of PhillyNORML. "That's the biggest issue."

The problems presented by state-by-state medical-marijuana laws are quite concrete for Ed "NJWeedman" Forchion. In California, Forchion not only has a medical-marijuana card, he also dispenses marijuana at his Liberty Bell Temple, in Hollywood. In New Jersey, he's considered a pot dealer and looking at 10 years in prison after a 2010 bust in his home state. Forchion, who recently sent a small amount of marijuana to the Daily News, said that New Jersey's medical-marijuana program is only for "the walking dead," but he has high hopes.

"Ultimately, I think it will turn into something like California," Forchion said. "It won't start out that way, but lawsuits will take it there."

Dr. Michael Ashburn, a professor at Penn's Perelman School of Medicine, said that he has trouble with any states approving medical marijuana for pain relief, when the FDA has not.

"Do state legislative bodies really have the resources, training and experience to review the scientific literature to determine if a drug is safe and effective?" Ashburn asked.

States are always creating laws to determine what they think is safe and effective, though, and they don't often agree. New Jersey and Pennsylvania have different stances on motorcycle helmets, fireworks, handguns and, now, medical marijuana.

Ken Wolski, CEO of the Coalition of Medical Marijuana New Jersey, said that it's all "f---ing nuts."

"If you're married in New Jersey, you're married in Pennsylvania," he said. "If you have a driver's license in New Jersey, you can drive in Pennsylvania."

The Associated Press contributed

to this report.

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