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March 29, 2013

Albany pols mull medical marijuana

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — Will 2013 be the year New York lawmakers embrace legislation authorizing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to seriously ill patients?

Supporters of allowing marijuana to be prescribed to sick people say there has never been a better opportunity for the proposal to pass.

Getting such legislation through the Democrat-controlled Assembly has never been a problem. The big obstacle for medical marijuana advocates has always been the state Senate, now dominated by an amalgam of Republicans and a breakaway bloc of self-described “independent” Democrats.

One of those Democrats working in league with the GOP, 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.

Savino’s bill, which is backed by the New York State Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association, would limit the dispensing of legal marijuana to state residents with a severe debilitating or life-threatening medical condition.

Her colleague, Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said he is open to considering the legislation but wants to review all of its details first to ensure there are sufficiently stringent controls over how it would be prescribed and dispensed.

“We’ve had proposals in the past that were way too wide open — for instance, allowing people to grow it in their backyard,” he said.

He said would also like to hear from the federal Food and Drug Administration on its position toward the legislation.

“Anecdotally, people have told me that their only source of relief from pain is through marijuana,” Seward said. “I could only support the use of medical marijuana for patients with chronic and terminal conditions. I am open to looking into the issue, but it would have to be very tightly controlled. I wouldn’t support legalizing marijuana under the guise of medical marijuana.”

The legislation would require patients certified to obtain marijuana to register with the state Health Department. The bill would authorize those suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV and other debilitating diseases and conditions to obtain marijuana for therapeutic relief.

Eighteen states already permit medical marijuana. According to a Siena College poll completed last year, 61 percent of New York voters agree that medical marijuana should be permitted.

Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, said he is far from sold on the idea, largely because allowing medical marijuana in New York would put state statutes in conflict with federal laws that outlaw marijuana.

Lopez said he believes the issue should be decided by the FDA, rather than by state legislatures passing laws that could put citizens at risk of being prosecuted by the federal government.

Two local sheriffs — Richard Devlin Jr. of Otsego County and Tony Desmond of Schoharie County — said they want to know more about how medical marijuana would be controlled.

“I know it could help some people, but there could be a lot of abuse,” Desmond said.

The legislation, which is also before the Assembly, has 68 co-sponsors, including 10 Senate Democrats.