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March 24, 2014

In Our Opinion: New York must allow medical marijuana

The Daily Star

---- — Some time in the next week, amid as much fanfare as it can muster, members of the state Legislature hope to announce that they have achieved — for the first time since 1974-1977 — their fourth consecutive on-time budget.

There are at least two dangers involved in this. The first is that they risk serious rotator cuff injuries from so rigorously patting themselves on the back for just doing their jobs. The second is that a budget might emerge that does not include the legalization of medical marijuana.

As usual, grass is greener in the Democratic Party-controlled Assembly, which passed a budget that includes legalizing the drug. Members of the Senate, who would probably do the same if legislation actually came to a vote, passed their budget without a plebiscite on the merits of medical marijuana.

The Senate, Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be negotiating a final 2015 budget this week, and we hope that the Compassionate Care Act, legalizing medical marijuana, survives the parlays.

We would also welcome a discussion about legalizing recreational marijuana like Colorado and Washington state have done, but that isn’t on the table this year. Cuomo said legal weed “is a nonstarter” even though a majority of New York citizens support it in small amounts.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana has a strong advocate in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“It is clear that there are patients in New York who can benefit from the effects of medical marijuana,” Silver said. “We have carefully considered this initiative. We have heard from patients, caregivers, providers and advocates. This is a well-thought-out plan that, once implemented, will provide access to medicine that can alleviate pain and suffering from serious illness.”

The way we look at it, marijuana is a drug, which like most other drugs, can have its benefits if used correctly. The vast majority of New Yorkers agree. In February, the latest Quinnipiac poll revealed that 88 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing medical marijuana.

The Assembly budget would allow possession of up to 2.5 ounces to be prescribed for those suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, neuropathy, arthritis, lupus and diabetes.

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta used to be against legalization, but no longer.

“I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now,” he wrote recently. “I didn’t look far enough. … I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.”

The state Senate leadership should look hard enough, too, and help end so much needless suffering.