A couple months after New Jersey expanded its medical marijuana program, State Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal is encouraging doctors to recommend it to their patients. At an event at the Rutgers University Medical School, Dr. Elnahal lauded the benefits of medical marijuana in front of an audience of medical practitioners and students. Though New Jersey’s medical marijuana program is growing at an impressive rate, the number of physicians willing to recommend the herb is not.
The Case of a Boy with Brain Cancer Raises Awareness About Marijuana
Doctor Elnahal told the audience that patients of his repeatedly praise cannabis. He takes the example of Jake Honig, a 7-year-old who recently passed away from brain cancer. “Medicinal marijuana was the only therapy that allowed him to be comfortable in the last few months of his life and to interact with his family,” he explained.
He even reached out to Jake’s father, Mike Honig, who publicly supports medical cannabis. Health Commissioner Elnahal told the crowd of doctors, “The department of health is pushing this because of its benefits on patients. Sometimes it really is, many times it really is the best therapy. you can give them.”
New Legislation Is Expanding Access To Cannabis
The Honig family’s struggle to obtain marijuana for their son catalyzed legislative changes in New Jersey. A bill proposed in Jake’s honor sought to remove boundaries between patients and treatment.
Assemblywoman Joann Downey, who worked on this legislation, explained to local news, “Although medical marijuana proved to be an effective treatment for Jake, his parents noted the difficulties they encountered with the cost, quantity limits, and issues related to producing their own cannabis oil to administer to Jake.”
As of late March, New Jersey has reduced fees and expanded its list of qualifying conditions. Now, physicians can suggest the herb to their patients without registering. In theory, this means that doctors don’t have to worry as much about federal prosecution.
New Jersey Is Experiencing A Medical Marijuana Boom
As a result of improved marijuana accessibility, New Jersey’s supply is running low. In urban areas especially, patients are having to wait in line at dispensaries, which sometimes run out of weed.
Enrollment in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program jumped to 20,000 since Governor Murphy, a more weed-friendly politician, assumed office. As of the changes implemented in March, around 100 new patients have signed up daily. Production hasn’t increased enough to meet the Garden State’s soaring demand.
Health Commissioner Wants More Doctors To Get Comfortable With Marijuana
Though patients have been quick to sign up for cannabis, doctors have been more hesitant. Currently, only 622 doctors have registered with the state’s ever-growing medical marijuana program. For the 28,000 patients might not know who to talk to about cannabis, this is far from enough.
A lack of research due to federal restrictions contributes to widespread physicians wariness. Doctor Elnahal regretted, “we want to see more research, better research, but we are not.” But anecdotal evidence and an increasing number of studies should give them confidence, suggests Elnahal.
“I want this [medical marijuana] to be in physicians’ and other providers’ heads as a therapeutic option—not something separate, not sort of in a different category like alternative medicine. This really is reaching a level of relevance and importance to patients,” he told the medical conference audience according to reporters.
Yet some audience members remained skeptical. A child psychiatrist said after the presentation, “We don’t have the evidence, for me, to jump on board to do that.” Another doctor named Jill Williams likened weed to alcohol. “I don’t think you can totally interpret that as medicinal. People use alcohol to cope with trauma and depression and other problems,” said Williams, an addiction psychiatrist.
Medical Attitudes Towards Marijuana Lag Behind Demand
New Jersey is experiencing medical marijuana growing pains. While patients are eager to access an anti-seizure, anti-nausea painkilling medicine, doctors are wary of recommending it. This will likely remain the case while the threat of federal prosecution lasts. Until then, promising research, cases like Jake Honig’s and public support from officials like the Health Commissioner will hopefully promote medical cannabis open-mindedness.