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N.J. teaching hospitals campaign to be sole dispensers of medical marijuana

July 12, 2010

Medical Marijuana
Image by Troy Holden via Flickr
7-12-2010 | Susan K. Livio | NJ.com

TRENTONNew Jersey’s teaching hospitals are campaigning to be the sole dispensers of medical marijuana in the state by touting their secure buildings, connection to patients, and “legitimacy” in the community, according to a proposal obtained by The Star-Ledger.

The New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals’ pitch is the leading proposal Gov. Chris Christie’s administration is considering as it wrestles with implementing the controversial law within the next six months, said state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), one of the law’s sponsors.

“The program not only will make New Jersey a model for the nation in how to implement a safe and sane medical marijuana program, it could bring significant new dollars to the teaching hospitals to fund graduate medical education therein addressing New Jersey’s physician manpower shortage,” according to the proposal.

The plan assumes Rutgers University’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences would be the lone farmer supplying the marijuana crop to the 16 largest of the 40 teaching hospitals. They would include Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, and University Hospital in Newark, according to the proposal.

The patients registered by the hospital would place orders online and pick them up at the in-house pharmacy. The product itself would be sold in prescription pill bottles, with specific strains like “White Widow” and “AK-47” renamed to eliminate reference to “pot culture terminology,’’ the proposal said.

J. Richard Goldstein, a physician and the council’s executive director, said the proposal would benefit chronically-ill patients, many of whom rely on hospital clinics, as well as the state, “which is rightly concerned about abuse. We already handle all classes of legal drugs so this is no different.”

The teaching hospitals also stand to gain “a significant funding source” to invest in training new doctors, Goldstein said.

The council released a report earlier this year saying New Jersey is facing a shortage of nearly 3,000 family doctors and specialists in the next decade because the state has a reputation of being a “hostile” place to run a practice.

“All proceeds would be dedicated to improving the physician supply or for research” demonstrating how the cannabis plant best reduces pain, muscle spasms, nausea and other debilitating symptoms, the report said.

But before the proposal can gain any traction, it must win the support of Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), who sponsored the original law and would need to amend or draft new legislation. The law calls for six nonprofits to grow and dispense the drug as decided by a competitive regulatory process overseen by the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

The changes Christie envisions would exclude involvement by entrepreneurs and the economic benefits many communities have reaped in California and Colorado.

Scutari said he likes the concept but he feels uncomfortable with the monopoly the state would be handing Rutgers and the hospitals. Scutari said he would consider drafting legislation that would give Rutgers and the hospitals first dibs on the program and allow other entities to join the market perhaps two years later.

“I don’t like it being a monopoly forever,” Scutari said.

He also worries the teaching hospitals might be located in some areas that might be hard for patients to reach.

But Scutari does favor the idea’s association with doctors and research. “If you allow it to come from a single source, you can gauge impact in a scientific way, and make recommendations for dosage,’’ Scutari said.

Goldstein said he would agree to ending the monopoly, but hopes the legislators give a longer window, perhaps five years, to allow hospitals to recoup some of the money invested in the operation, creating the web site or purchases in technology.

Even after the state designs its medical marijuana plans, the planning is far from done. The hospitals and the university would need permission by the federal government to possess and dispense what is still an illegal drug.

A number of federal agencies “could easily make it impossible for us to stay in business,’’ according to the proposal.

Michael Drewniak, Christie’s spokesman, declined to discuss the council’s proposal.

Medical Marijuana: Coming to a hospital near you?

The New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals is proposing that medical marijuana be dispensed from the 16 largest teaching hospitals in New Jersey once a new law takes effect. Here’s where that would happen if the plan is approved by Gov. Chris Christie and lawmakers.

North: Hackensack University Medical Center, Hackensack; Jersey City Medical Center, Jersey City; Morristown Memorial Hospital, Morristown; Mountainside Hospital, Montclair; Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, Newark; Overlook Hospital, Summit; Saint Barnabas Medical Center, Livingston; Saint Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, Paterson; Saint Michael’s Medical Center, Newark; University Hospital, Newark.

Central: Jersey Shore Medical Center, Neptune; Monmouth Medical Center, Long Branch; Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center, New Brunswick; Saint Peter’s University Hospital, New Brunswick.

South: Cooper University Medical Center, Camden; Kennedy Memorial Hospital, Stratford.

Please see original posting: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/07/nj_teaching_hospitals_campaign.html

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