NY medical marijuana measure advances
February 24, 2004
Erin Duggan, The Times Union
ALBANY -- A bill legalizing the medical use of marijuana is gaining momentum in the state Assembly, with bipartisan sponsorship and a successful vote Tuesday in the Assembly Health Committee.
The bill, which would allow primarily terminally ill patients to be prescribed marijuana for nausea, pain and other symptoms, has 41 Assembly sponsors, including seven Republicans.
'If you have ever seen anyone on their deathbed, dying in agony, screaming in pain every day as I had with my father who had cancer ... the risks of smoking marijuana are outweighed by the therapeutic benefits,' said Assemblyman Robert Prentiss, a conservative Republican from Colonie.
The bill has broad support from the medical community, with endorsements from medical societies in New York, Westchester, Putnam, Orange, Rockland and Dutchess counties. It is also supported by the state Health Department's AIDS Advisory Council, the New York State Association of County Health Officials, the New York State Nurses Association, the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of New York State, Statewide Senior Action Council, Gay Men's Health Crisis and the New York AIDS Coalition.
Nine states have passed medical marijuana laws.
Gov. George Pataki remains opposed to the idea.
'The Health Department tells us, and many health experts agree, that there are already approved legal medications in place that treat symptoms like nausea and help deal with pain management,' said Pataki spokesman Andrew Rush. Rush did not identify the health experts.
At Tuesday's Assembly health committee meeting, other opponents made a variety of arguments against the bill, ranging from the possibility of medically prescribed marijuana getting into the hands of nonpatients to concerns that smoking marijuana could violate the state's smoking ban if a caregiver had to breathe second-hand smoke.
The bill has been amended since it was introduced last year to include additional protections against abuse. It passed the health committee, led by Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, by a vote of 18-6. It now must go through the Assembly Codes committee, then Ways and Means before coming up for a full house vote.
Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, said his chamber will also consider the bill, which has a Democratic sponsor. 'We're going to look at that,' he said Tuesday. 'We're very aware that there are addictive substances that have a medical value.'