Montel Williams pushes for medicinal marijuana

May 10, 2005

John Moreno Gonzales, Newsday

ALBANY -- Television talk-show host and multiple-sclerosis patient Montel Williams lobbied Tuesday for the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, joining state lawmakers who say the intoxicant is a credible pain killer.
'New York needs to act now to make marijuana legally available for medical use,' said Williams, a Manhattan resident who said he has been buying the drug legally through a state-sanctioned commune in California. 'Every day that we delay is another day of needless suffering for patients like me across the state.'

State Sen. Vincent L. Leibell (R-Patterson) and Assemb. Richard N. Gottfried (D-Manhattan) flanked the star, along with elected and health officials who outlined a proposal that would allow cerpatients with life-threatening conditions to be prescribed the drug by certified practitioners.

Their backing was reinforced by the support of Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, who issued a statement late in the day saying he had met with Williams and medical experts and was convinced that a bill permitting medical marijuana use 'in tightly controlled instances' must be passed before the legislative session ends next month.

Under the proposal, now being debated in health committees in the Senate and Assembly, a practitioner must determine that no other medication would be as effective for a patient as marijuana. Licensed nonprofit organizations would grow the drug under stringent oversight to guard against illicit sale. Additionally, a patient's possession of the drug would be limited to 2.25 ounces and it could not be used in a public place.

Despite the safeguards, opponents of the proposal yesterday characterized Williams as a renegade, and said the proposal was designed to lead to a more expansive legalization of the drug.

'Here we have a person who is breaking the law trying to set policy,' Mike Long, chairman of the Conservative Party of New York State, said of Williams. 'Many people who advocate for this are really ultimately looking to liberalize the use of marijuana, to have it become acceptable.'

Twelve other states now allow the medicinal use of marijuana, and the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule shortly on whether those laws are subject to a federal ban. Bruno's support for the proposal and what Gottfried called strong support in the Assembly means a bill could end up on the governor's desk.

Williams said yesterday that he met with Gov. George Pataki a month ago and the governor promised to re-examine what had been opposition to medical marijuana. Yesterday, the governor's office deferred its opinion about the proposal to the New York State Department of Health, which advises the executive on the matter.

'We remain skeptical of the use of medical marijuana, but we continue to monitor the issue,' said health department spokesman Bill Van Slyke.

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