NY Pols consider 'medical marijuana'

June 13, 2007

James T. Madore, NewsDay (NY)

Legalizing marijuana for medical use appeared Wednesday to gain momentum here with lawmakers and then lose it as the legislature's two houses disagreed over implementation.

During a morning news conference, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) said a colleague would introduce a legalization bill this week and predicted "the chances are better than not that it will go to the governor."

Five hours later, however, Bruno criticized a rival measure in the Assembly as unworkable because it's "too broad and we think it just lets too many things happen that may be inappropriate ... We're going to do our own bill."

But there may not be time to reconcile the differences with only five working days left before the legislature adjourns for the year, and a growing list of other unresolved issues, some with pressing deadlines.

In the Assembly, debate on the marijuana legislation raged for two hours with some lawmakers recounting stories of chronically-ill people who smoked the drug for relief from pain and nausea. Others expressed concern that patients would run afoul of federal prohibitions against the sale and use of marijuana.

The bill's sponsor, Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), acknowledged its flaws but urged New York to join 12 other states that have authorized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The issue has been debated in the Capitol since 1997.

"It is, I think, as good as we can get given the current federal law. And I think considering the suffering that we are dealing with, it is the right way to go," Gottfried said, before his bill was adopted 92 to 52.

Gottfried's legislation allows patients stricken with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other severe illnesses to possess a small amount of marijuana for their use exclusively. They must be certified at least once a year by a doctor or licensed prescriber, and their identity would be known to the state Health Department.

Patients would be required to carry a state-issued registration card and be limited to having no more than 12 marijuana plants and 21/2 ounces of usable product. The bill doesn't specify how patients would acquire the drug.

Should New York legalize marijuana, it likely will face a legal challenge because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that possession and use was illegal even for medical purposes.

In the Senate, Sen. Vincent Leibell III (R-Carmel) plans to introduce a bill that would permit physicians to prescribe marijuana in limited cases. "It would be monitored so that they wouldn't be ... passing it on to others who don't need it for medical purposes," said Bruno, who has supported legalization for the past few years.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a former prosecutor, is a more recent convert. He opposed legalization a year ago in a gubernatorial primary debate. But earlier this week he said, "I'm open to signing a bill if it is properly structured for appropriate use."



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