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April 5, 2013

Medical marijuana bill a good step

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The Daily Star

---- — “No one knows, when he places a marijuana cigarette to his lips, whether he will become a joyous reveler in a musical heaven, a mad insensate, a calm philosopher, or a murderer.”

So wrote Harry Anslinger, head of the U.S. Narcotics Enforcement Agency, in a 1937 article titled “Marijuana: Assassin of Youth.”

We’ve come a long way from these outmoded and unscientific evaluations of what marijuana does to people. But there is still enough opposition to its use that efforts to legalize medical marijuana in New York state have never made it past the Senate Republicans. 

New efforts with stricter controls in place — limiting access to the drug to those with chronic conditions such as cancer and HIV — may change all that. And we couldn’t be happier. 

Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, is sponsoring legislation that would put stricter controls on medical marijuana than previous measures that were bottled up in committees.

There will likely be New Yorkers who will criticize such an effort. 

For some, it will be because the plan being considered doesn’t go far enough. Nothing short of outright legalization will satisfy some folks. 

While we agree that decriminalization of marijuana is not only reasonable, but inevitable, we aren’t willing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good on this one. If this compromise is what it takes to get legislation through both houses, then we can live with the tighter restrictions. 

Marijuana isn’t a cure-all, and it isn’t right for everyone. And New York state is right to be careful about how it goes forward with this issue. California’s relatively lax medical marijuana law was the first of its kind in the nation, and has been a model, in some ways, of what not to do. Writing for the Los Angeles Times in 2010, Scott Imler and Stephen Gutwillig argued that the law was so porous that “anyone can obtain a recommendation for medical marijuana at any time for practically any ailment.”

We can understand why there are many people, including state Sen. James Seward of Milford, who don’t want to see New York go the same route. 

But even the relatively conservative Seward seems to be moving slightly on this issue. Less than a year ago, Seward expressed reservations about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to relax the penalties for small amounts of marijuana possession. 

“I still consider marijuana a gateway drug — a gateway to much more serious drug use,” Seward said in June.

But Seward seemed willing to give Saviano’s bill an honest look. 

“I am open to looking into the issue, but it would have to be very tightly controlled,” the senator said last week. 

We’re not saying Saviano’s bill is perfect. But it is a step forward for New York. And for now, that’s good enough for us.