TRENTON, N.J. -- New Jersey would become the 12th state to legalize marijuana for people with debilitating medical conditions under a bill slated to be discussed next month by state lawmakers.

Sen. Joseph Vitale, chairman of a Senate health panel, said he's scheduled a June 8 discussion to hear from experts on the bill proposed by Sen. Nicholas Scutari. Vitale said he supports the concept, but has questions.

"It's really an effort to provide some sort of relief for people and some compassion," said Vitale, D-Middlesex.

The legislation has long been proposed by Scutari, D-Union, but has never received a legislative hearing.


Though 11 states allow medical marijuana, in June 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal government can prosecute people who use marijuana no matter what a state law says.

Terrence P. Farley, an Ocean County assistant prosecutor and spokesman for two state anti-drug law enforcement groups, said the bill is a veiled attempt to legalize drugs.

"This is how they're trying to get marijuana legalized," said Farley, who also is director of the county anti-narcotics force.

Scutari said he has no hidden agenda.

"We're walking in the front door to attempt the legalization of a substance that has been utilized for pain relief for centuries," he said. "This is about compassion for people who are at their weakest or on their death beds."

The Assembly hasn't scheduled any hearings on the bill, but Gov. Jon S. Corzine said last year that he would sign a medical marijuana bill into law.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently reiterated its opposition to medical marijuana. The American Medical Association, National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and National Multiple Sclerosis Society reject its use. An April report by federal Department of Human Services agencies found no data supported marijuana for general medical use.

The National Academy of Sciences has found marijuana can help patients with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting.

Scutari's bill lists cancer, glaucoma, HIV and AIDS, wasting syndrome, chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures and persistent muscle spasms as among the conditions eligible for medical marijuana usage.