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Assembly Panel Advances Stender Bill to Help Bring Relief to Children Suffering from Debilitating Conditions

Measure Inspired by Two-Year Old Union County Girl Would Open Up Medical Marijuana Program to Children

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Stender to amend the state’s medical marijuana law in order to promote access to children with severe illnesses was approved by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

Stender proposed the bill, along with her district counterpart Senator Nicholas Scutari, in response to efforts by a Union County couple to obtain what could be life-saving treatment for their two-year old daughter who is suffering from Dravet syndrome, a severe and rare form of epilepsy that anti-seizure medicine does not control.

“Any parent would give the world to provide their child relief from the unimaginable pain and agony of chronic seizures that this young girl has had to live with,” said Assemblywoman Stender (D-Union). “Marijuana could provide a form of relief that would be life-changing for Vivian and her family. As a state, we should not stand in the way of that.”

Marijuana has been helpful in preventing most seizures in a number of children with the illness in Colorado and California, according to The Star-Ledger which first reported the family’s story.

The bill (A-4241) would require that minors be subject to the same requirements as adults to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program. The measure is intended to remove barriers to treatment faced by children such as two-year old Vivian Wilson, who had her first seizure at two months old.

Signed in January 2010, the state’s medical marijuana law – designated the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act – created one of the strictest programs in the nation. Regulations adopted by the state Department of Health and Senior Services and the Board of Medical Examiners further restricted the state program.

The bill advanced today would preempt regulations adopted by the state Board of Medical Examiners in October 2011, which require that a physician seeking to authorize the medical use of marijuana by a minor obtain written confirmation from a pediatrician and a psychiatrist establishing, in their professional opinions, that the patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefits from the medical use of marijuana.

The bill would require that minors be subject to the same requirements as adults when seeking to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program, except that a parent or guardian must receive an explanation of the potential risks and benefits of the medical use of marijuana, and must grant permission for the child’s medical use of marijuana.

Currently, adults are required to obtain certification from a physician with whom they have a bona fide physician-patient relationship, meaning the relationship has existed for at least a year, the physician has seen the patient for the debilitating medical condition on at least four occasions or the physician assumes responsibility for providing management and care of the patient’s debilitating medical condition after a review of medical history and physical examinations.

“Vivian’s story is heartbreaking and I sympathize fully with her parents’ efforts to provide her with as much comfort and relief as possible. That was intended to be the essence of our Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana law,” said Stender. “This measure will help ensure that New Jersey residents who are suffering with severe illnesses, regardless of age, are not prevented from accessing medicine the law was intended to provide. This is the compassionate thing to do and the right thing to do.”

The legislation would also permit the distribution of medical marijuana in dried form, oral lozenges, topical formulations, or edible form, or another form permitted by the Commissioner of Health. Current regulations prohibit marijuana from being dispensed in the edible form, which in some cases may be the most appropriate form for a young child to receive treatment.

To date, no minors have received medical marijuana through the program, in part because of a lack of formal recommendations by pediatricians and psychiatrists for the medical use of marijuana by minors.

The Star-Ledger reported that Vivian Wilson met the eligibility requirements for the state’s medical marijuana program but that her parents, Brian and Meghan Wilson, have been unable to obtain the certification from a psychiatrist necessary for their child to participate. The family has already taken numerous steps to help prevent seizures.

According to the report, the child wears an eye patch during the day and is kept from direct sunlight; she is on a special diet and medication; and striped or brightly colored clothing or objects have been hidden or removed from the home. The family is seeking treatment for their daughter with marijuana that is provided in capsule form or added to food, which has proven effective for children in other states.

The legislation is intended to help facilitate access to potentially beneficial treatment for children in New Jersey with Dravet Syndrome and other debilitating conditions.

The measure now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.