NY State Sen. Morahan backs medical pot stance

September 18, 2007

Matt King, Times-Herald Record (NY)

Days after medical marijuana advocates took out an ad targeting state Sen. Thomas Morahan, he reaffirmed his support for a bill allowing doctors to prescribe the drug for seriously ill patients.

And other local legislators think New York soon will become the 13th state to enact a medical marijuana law.

"I support allowing medical marijuana to go forward, providing it's under the control of a physician," said Sen. John Bonacic, R-C-Mount Hope. "There's strong support from members for medical marijuana controlled by physicians, but not blanket giveaways."

In June, the Assembly passed a medical marijuana law on a party-line vote, with Republicans voting against it.

Last week, the Marijuana Policy Project took out ads in papers across the state targeting a handful of Republican senators, including Morahan, R-C-New City.

The full-page ad in the Times Herald-Record features a member of the Conservative Party who wants legal marijuana to cope with chronic pain and advises readers to call Morahan and voice support for a new law.

"If the medical community and scientists feel there's an advantage to people with either terminal or serious illness, I wouldn't be in the way of that. In fact, I'd be supportive," Morahan said, echoing sentiments he expressed in an interview in June. "I can't speak for everyone, but I think the bill will pass."

But the Senate bill, supported by Morahan, Bonacic and other Republicans, deviates from the Assembly bill in ways that bother medical marijuana boosters and could set up a showdown between the houses.

The Assembly bill allows people certified as seriously or terminally ill by a licensed caregiver to grow and possess small amounts of the drug if a doctor recommends it.

The Senate bill puts the state in charge of the distribution system and essentially requires a doctor to prescribe marijuana to patients. Advocates say those changes could conflict with laws labeling marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means it can't be prescribed.

"That would reasonably cause doctors to fear getting in trouble with federal law," said Dan Bernath, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "This puts state employees at risk of arrest and invites federal mischief. We have the experience of 12 other states to know the only time the federal government gets involved in dispensary systems."

If the Senate legislation passes, differences in the bills would have to be worked out in a conference committee. The Legislature returns to work in January.

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