New Jersey is on track to become the 14th state in the nation to allow the use of marijuana for "compassionate medical" use.
Despite fierce opposition from some in law enforcement, the Health and Senior Services Committee of the General Assembly passed the bill by a 8 to 1 vote, with abstentions, sending it on to the full Assembly where it has the support of Speaker Joe Roberts, a Democrat. A similar bill passed the State Senate earlier this year by a 22-16 margin.
"I am dying of ALS(Lou Gherig's disease)," said Diane Riportella, who broke down in tears at the beginning of her testimony before the committee.
Riportella already uses marijuana for her pain, and told the Committee, "It saddens me I have to spend my last days fitting for the right to have medicine that relieves my suffering."
However, the police chief of Middlesex, James Benson,representing the State Association of Chiefs of Police, warned that legalizing medical marijuana "will lead to increased marijuana use, increased crime, and an increased threat to public safety."
"Should the law stand between a physician and what he believes to be in the best interests of his patients?" said conservative Republican Assemblyman Mike Patrick Carroll, a co-sponsor. "I don't believe it should."
Legislators added several last-minute restrictions, including one that says only licensed, non-profit centers can distribute the marijuana. A second would allow a certification--but not a prescription--only from the physician treating the underlying medical condition that might lead to its use.
In addition, "There will be no (legal) home growing of marijuana under this bill," according to Committee Chairman Herb Conaway, a democrat and a doctor himself.
Thirteen states already have some form of medical marijuana law on the books.
"It will be the most restrictive law in the U. S. ... with the most safeguards in terms of abuse," according to another co-sponsor, State Senator Fred Scutari.