Two area men with serious, chronic medical conditions will join an assemblyman in Albany today to urge passage of a Senate bill allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
``We're hopeful,'' said Bruce Dunn, of Morris, from a hotel in Albany on Monday night.
He and Richard Williams, of Richmondville, will join other patients and Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried, D-Manhattan, who will announce a television advertising campaign seeking Senate approval of a bill before the lawmakers adjourn June 23. Later, patients will lobby their senators, according to a media advisory from Gottfried and the Marijuana Police Project in Washington, D.C.
``We want to see an effective law that's going to help people,'' Williams, 46, who has had HIV for 20 years and also has hepatitis C, said from his home Monday.
The men said separately they don't want to be criminalized because they use marijuana for their medical conditions. Dan Bernath, assistant director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the possibility of arrests are a fear among patients and today's lobby efforts are to inform senators of the importance of the issues.
The Assembly passed a bill last year, Bernath said, and the Marijuana Policy Project wouldn't ask patients to lobby for passage if there were no chance senators would approve the bill.
However, a local senator expressed doubt.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said the issue is a matter of federal law, said James Seward, R-Milford, and it is up to Congress to clarify whether states are empowered on the matter.
``I don't anticipate the Senate will take up this issue until the federal government tells us we can,'' Seward said. The Assembly is creating some false hope about an issue that isn't clearly in the state's jurisdiction, he said, and the fact that some other states have moved forward to approve laws ``isn't a road that New York should go down.''
Seward said he personally supports the use of medicinal marijuana for patients with chronic or terminal conditions if the drug is approved by the Federal Drug Administration and prescribed by a physician. The drug, like morphine, could be used for pain relief, he said.
``I could support legislation that is very, very tightly controlled,'' Seward said. But until federal and state jurisdictions are clarified, Seward said he has a responsibility to abide by the U.S. Constitution.
The Assembly bill sponsored by Gottfried legalizes the possession, manufacture, use, delivery, transport or administration of marijuana by a patient or designated caregiver for a certified medical use and directs the Department of Health to monitor uses. In its justification, the bill refers to the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine 1999 report that "nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety ... all can be mitigated by marijuana."
Doctors and patients have documented that marijuana can be an effective treatment _ where other medications have failed _ for some patients with HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other life-threatening or debilitating conditions.
A Senate bill regarding proposed medicinal use of marijuana is in committee, according to the http://public.leginfo.state.ny.us/menuf.cgi website.
Dunn said he has tried many therapies and medicines since his accident in 1988 and he needs the drug because it eases pain, softens muscles and motivates him. Marijuana is a safe drug that should be available to those who would benefit, he said.
``There are people who need that _ no other drug serves them as well with as few side effects,'' Dunn, 61, said. ``I'm in it for others as well as myself.''
Bernath said the TV ad is a new step in seeking passage of a law by the Senate. Burton Aldrich, a quadriplegic father of five from Kingston, is featured in the ads to be broadcast on CNN and CNN Headline News, among other channels, starting Wednesday, Bernath said. Montana, Vermont and Rhode Island are among states that have passed medicinal marijuana laws since 2004 and after TV ad campaigns, he said.
Bernath said he spoke Monday with Barbara Jackson, a cancer survivor from the Bronx, who expressed gratitude that she didn't go to jail after her arrest last year for using marijuana to treat appetite loss. The charges were dropped, Bernath said, but Jackson still faces the threat of arrest.
``This is not a theoretical problem,'' he said.