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UPDATE: Medical Marijuana Bill May Not See Action This Term

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
ALBANY _ The GOP-controlled Senate and Democrat-dominated Assembly have bills to allow marijuana use for serious illnesses, but they disagree on how it would be dispensed and there may not be enough time or will to reach a compromise this session.

"It boils down to how you control it, both in production and distribution," Sen. Vincent Leibell, R-Patterson and the bill's sponsor in his house, said Monday.

The Assembly bill, approved 92-52 last week, allows someone with a prescription from a licensed practitioner and a registry identification card to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and up to 12 plants. To get a prescription, a medical professional would have to certify that the patient's condition was serious or life-threatening and could not be treated as effectively with other medication. Patients could not use the marijuana in a public place.

The Senate bill, which has not been voted on yet, would set up registered organizations, such as a pharmacy, hospital, nursing home, health department or non-profit group, for dispensing marijuana to patients. A "certified agricultural producer'' could grow medical cannabis at a secure facility owned and regulated by the state Health Department. A patient could possess up to a 21-day supply of marijuana pursuant to a physician's certification, but could not keep it in a public place, motor vehicle, vessel or aircraft.

The Assembly version does not call for dispensaries because the federal government could shut them down for violating the law, as has occurred elsewhere, said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, who sponsored the bill.

"I'm concerned that the federal authorities would shut them down as quickly as we licensed them," Gottfried said. "Patients should not be restricted to state-licensed entities that may never exist."

But that's not the way the Senate is looking at the issue.

"In my opinion, the Senate majority will not be open to allowing people to grow it in their own homes," Leibell said.

The Assembly bill has been criticized by some who say it would "encourage" patients to seek out drug dealers to get the cannabis.

Gottfried said the Assembly would be willing to compromise on the dispensaries part of the bill, but any legislation would have to allow patients possess marijuana even if it was acquired somewhere else. Gottfried said he was hopeful that a compromise could be negotiated before the session ends Thursday.

Lawyers for the Assembly, Senate and Gov. Eliot Spitzer were meeting about the legislation Monday, according to Leibell.

Leibell said did not know if an agreement would be hashed out before Thursday. If not, negotiations will continue, he said.

Spitzer said last week that he would be open to signing medical-marijuana legislation.

Marijuana has been found to be an effective treatment for some patients who suffer from HIV/AIDS, cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other debilitating or life-threatening conditions. The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, has been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency since 1986 in pill form, according to the Assembly. Many physicians believe using cannabis in its natural form is more effective.

Twelve states allow limited use of marijuana for medical purposes, Gottfried said.

"The current prohibition (in New York) is political correctness run amok," he said.

Gottfried held a news conference Monday with Bruce Dunn of Butternuts, Otsego County and Fred McLaughlin of Suffolk County, both of whom said they use marijuana to relieve pain and other problems associated with their conditions. Both have to obtain it illegally.

McLaughlin, who has multiple sclerosis, said marijuana enabled him to regain full sight in his left eye by relieving tension in his optic nerve, and it has gotten rid of numbness and other symptoms he had experienced. McLaughlin, 32, said marijuana is the only medicine that has helped him.

"There's a little paranoia having to go somewhere to get it," he said.

Dunn, 60, said he has been in constant, severe pain since rolling over in a small truck in 1988. He spent five months in the hospital and 13 months in rehabilitation. Many of the drugs he has taken since then have had serious side effects. He currently is prescribed OxyContin, a controlled substance, and an anti-depressant, and he uses marijuana. Dunn said he "resents the hell out of being a criminal because I use this herb."

"The only side effect that I'm aware of is a feeling of well being," he said.

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Source: Star-Gazette
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Copyright: 2007 Star-Gazette
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