Parents plead for expanding N.J. medical marijuana program

 Hopatcong, N.J. resident Phil Joana says a strain of medical marijuana could have saved his daughter's life (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Hopatcong, N.J. resident Phil Joana says a strain of medical marijuana could have saved his daughter's life (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

The parents of some sick children joined Democratic lawmakers at New Jersey’s Statehouse in pushing for changes to the Garden State’s medical marijuana program.

As he talked about the death of his 1-year-old daughter, Sabina Rose, from a severe form of epilepsy, Phil Joana was in tears.

“Medical marijuana would have saved her life. You don’t hear about kids in Colorado, California, or any other state where cannabis is available having status seizures being put into a medically induced coma and ultimately losing their battle,” said Joana of Hopatcong.

His daughter needed a specific variety of marijuana with a high level of CBD oil, he said.

“If there’s no access to the strain … in the state we pay taxes to and want to raise our families in, then allow families in need to find the life-saving medicine in other states and bring it back to New Jersey to treat our children,” Joana said.

A bill sponsored by eight Democratic lawmakers would allow patients in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program to do just that.

Gov. Chris Christie has said he will not allow any more changes in the New Jersey’s program, but advocates are hoping he will show compassion for the patients who need a specific variety of the drug to relieve their suffering.

It’s a hope Sen. Nick Scutari said he shares.

“I think it’s time for the administration to stop worrying about the political concerns about it and do what’s right for people,” said Scutari, D-Union. “Let’s get some reasonable regulations that allow people to get this medication in whatever form will help them most.”

More than four years after the medical marijuana program was approved, just three of six dispensaries have opened.

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