TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Parents of children with severe epilepsy pleaded with New Jersey senators Thursday to approve a measure that would make it easier for kids to have access to medical marijuana, but some medical professionals warned the move could prove to be dangerous.
The bill would eliminate a requirement of written confirmation from a pediatrician and a psychiatrist for juveniles to get medical marijuana. It would also allow medical marijuana to be produced in an edible form, which is currently banned. An amendment to the bill would also allow more strains to be available to patients.
New Jersey's medical marijuana program, signed into law in 2010, has gotten off to a slow start, with just one dispensary open and a second being issued a state growing permit Thursday but not expected to open until September. The state law has some stricter provisions than others around the country.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill 8-3, and it heads to the full Senate for consideration.
Brian Wilson, the father of a 2-year-old Scotch Plains girl with severe epilepsy whose story prompted the creation of the bill, said his family can't find a single psychiatrist to sign consent, even though her neurologist and pedestrian are on board.
Wilson said some psychiatrists won't even hear him out because of the stigma associated with marijuana. Wilson is asking for a liquid form of the drug and said children in Colorado and California with similar conditions have benefited from medical marijuana over FDA-approved pharmaceuticals. He wants the same for his daughter, he said.
"I just want her to be able to look at me and say 'I love you' and understand that," he told the panel.
But the measure could prove to be dangerous, the executive director of the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said.
Despite supporting a medical model for marijuana for children, eliminating regulation is not an answer, Fran Gallagher testified. Gallagher told the panel that removing a pediatrician from the approvals is dangerous because only they can assess how medicine affects a child.
"Children are different than adults," Gallagher said. "The appropriate dosing for children is not yet well-established."
Sharon Levy, a pediatrician of Boston Children's Hospital, cautioned parents who think medical marijuana is an answer because sometimes resolving short-term effects causes long-term problems.
Parents who wish to consider medical marijuana for severely ill children "certainly need to go into that with eyes wide open," she said.
Still, Wilson said he believes the bill is one small step to getting help for his daughter and so many others who seek medical marijuana treatment for severe illnesses.
"We cannot wait another 2 1/2 years to take the next steps that we all know need to be taken."