Emily GirschApr 19, 2018, 5:53 pm

New Jersey revisits how to classify medical marijuana

‘The federal government considers you disabled, but you can't get the one thing that will give you pain relief'

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NEWARK — A public hearing on marijuana was held in Newark on Thursday. Currently, marijuana is classified as a schedule I drug, meaning it has high potential for abuse and no medical value. However, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has been a staunch supporter of expanding access to medical marijuana to cover more medical conditions.

In attendance was Mary Alma Simakowicz, who was a sign language teacher for many years when she developed a debilitating pain condition known as complex regional pain syndrome in 2013. After years of taking drugs like Vicodin, which had side effects that prevented her from working, her doctor prescribed her a trial of medical marijuana, which reduced her pain. However, she can no longer access it.

"I'm not saying it's curing my pain, but it's lessening it, and anything that's lessening my pain is great," Simakowicz said.

Also in attendance was Walsh Pizzi O’Reilly Falanga Associate Attorney Joseph Linares, who appealed to the state attorney's office to change its classification in order to benefit his client, Steven Kadonsky. Kadonsky was convicted in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison for marijuana trafficking under New Jersey's "Drug Kingpin" statute, which requires strict punishment for schedule I substances.

"Marijuana has been inappropriately classified since 1971, so the substance hasn't changed. Our understanding and the political climate and the medical research around the substance is what has changed," Linares said. "It's classified as a schedule I substance. It sits alongside heroin and LSD and is considered more dangerous than opiates and cocaine.”

According to a statement from Attorney General Gurbir Gewal, changing the classification of marijuana would not lead to legalizing or decriminalizing the drug's use, but it could reduce the severity of criminal penalties.

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