- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

New Jersey is preparing to consider adding conditions that qualify patients for using medical marijuana, Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd said Wednesday.

She said she will assemble a panel of medical experts to make recommendations.

Under state regulations, the process can start following the release Tuesday of the state’s second annual report on its medical cannabis program.

The report found that 3,600 people received the drug legally from the opening of the state’s first dispensary in December 2012 through the end of 2014. There were about 20,000 total sales of 800 pounds of 33 different strains of the drug, which is still illegal under federal law.

The state also reported that the availability of marijuana varied widely at the state’s three dispensaries. Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge was open nearly every day last year, while Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair sold marijuana to patients fewer than seven days per month on average.

But for advocates, the news was simply that the report was released, allowing an expansion of a program that they say does not make marijuana available to many people it could help.

Currently, the list includes eight specific qualifying conditions, including multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, seizure disorders and glaucoma. Additionally, patients who have been given less than 12 months to live by a doctor or have pain associated with cancer, AIDS or HIV can register.

Ken Wolski, director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, wants to see chronic pain for any patient and post-traumatic stress disorder added to the list.

“If it’s useful for one source of chronic pain or two sources of pain,” he said, “It’s useful for all sources.”

Wolski said he believes at least 100,000 more people would qualify in New Jersey if chronic pain were added to the conditions.

In an interview on Wednesday, O’Dowd said she would let the regulatory process play out to see which conditions, if any, could be added.

“I will wait for the petitions to come in and the guidance and recommendation of the panel,” she said.

O’Dowd, a member of Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet, said that patients who can be helped by marijuana and want it are generally able to get it now.

But advocates and some lawmakers say the state is too restrictive with the program.

Last week, the Democrat-controlled Assembly, passed a resolution that finds it’s not being run in compliance with the intent of the 2010 law that allowed medical marijuana in the state.

The Assembly also passed bills to make sure PTSD patients could get the drug and to allow the state-licensed dispensaries to transfer marijuana to one another.

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