New Jersey’s medical-marijuana program made national headlines this summer with the government’s commitment to amend the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.
The changes relaxed aspects of the state’s ultra-conservative law, particularly provisions that make marijuana-enhanced edibles (medibles) available to children but not adults.
The amendments, memorialized in S-2842 and signed on Sept. 11, are benevolent and essential to kick-start the stagnant program, but they are flawed in not providing manufacturing standards and not allowing medible use by adults.
In light of my experience representing clients facing these issues, I know the relief patients find in various cannabis products. Though popular, smoking or vaporizing the raw flower buds and eating medibles are by no means the only options to achieve relief.
A world of alternative products exists but will remain unknown due to the statute’s restrictions on forms of cannabis permissible for medical use. Awareness of such alternatives has become increasingly vital now that the state permits limited use of medibles without accompanying quality-control standards.
I support liberalizing regulations in pursuit of a healthy, self-sustaining program; however, any revisions to the statute must be sensible and pragmatic, and keep the patients in mind.
Patients of all ages would be better served with unrestricted access to professionally manufactured products, such as medical marijuana capsules (enhanced coconut oil-based pills and the like) and tinctures (concentrated liquid drops or oral sprays made from glycerin extraction), both more predictable and easily administered means of ingestion than medibles. Of course, medibles are clearly a healthier option for children than smoking, but consuming cannabis in such form is not without its drawbacks.
The potential dangers associated with medibles are largely unknown to those outside states with medical-marijuana programs.
Cannabis ingestion through the lungs (by smoking or vaporizing) produces the most immediate effects, typically lasting two to four hours, with the most intense effects in the initial half hour.
Ingestion of medibles through the stomach, on the other hand, produces a delayed onset of about one to two hours, followed by a period of intense effects that may unpredictably last one to eight hours or more depending on the potency of the product, personal bio-chemistry and hormone levels, tolerance and other factors.
Surprisingly, ingestion of such pills and tinctures produces significantly muted “high” effects while maintaining general symptom relief and can be more easily monitored, controlled and dosed than medibles. As such, many knowledgeable physicians believe these are the best medicines for most children.
The inconsistencies in effect, timing and intensity of medibles are compounded by nonstandardized dosing among manufacturers and misinformation about best practices in the production and extraction processes.
New Jersey would be wise to address such issues through comprehensive preventive legislation with strict labeling requirements, including appropriate warnings, manufacturing standards in line with those of commercial kitchens and regulations governing safe extraction.
Freedom of choice in medical-marijuana products is paramount for the success of the state’s program, as each patient needs to find what works best for him or her.
For example, patients undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer shouldn’t be ingesting cannabis by smoking; medibles and tinctures are more suitable to prevent further lung irritation. Alternatively, AIDS patients suffering from wasting syndrome generally shouldn’t be eating medibles because vaporizing raw flower buds or concentrates are more appropriate, considering the relative rapidity of pain relief as well as appetite stimulation.
In addition, the Legislature should focus on quality control and increased strain availability. Obviating limits on strains cultivated was addressed in the amendments, but more revisions are needed. For instance, the statute’s 10 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content limit, an illogical and baseless stipulation, needs to be removed. Presumably the cap was included to avoid the alleged dangers of overly potent cannabis.
However, no valid medical studies exist supporting such allegations, only unsubstantiated assertions from medical-marijuana opponents.
The truth is, cannabis, like corn, is an agricultural crop whose exact chemical components are impossible to determine until tested after harvested. So this arbitrary limit inadvertently forces cultivators to artificially manipulate plants during the growth cycle, which stunts development and maturation, diminishing the quality of the medicine.
If the integrity of New Jersey’s program is to be taken seriously, only premium cannabis should be cultivated. Naturally, top-quality plants lead to top-quality medicinal products. Any law mandating less than the best products — be it medibles, pills, tinctures or raw flower buds — will ultimately provide a disservice to New Jersey’s most vulnerable patients — children. •