EDITORIAL: State should approve medical marijuana

PITY OUR POOR LEGISLATORS. They passed a state budget on time… again. They found more money for schools and road repairs too. But the election is months away, and for now there’s no drama in the waning legislative session. Worse, reporters have swarmed off in pursuit of a sexier story. The media’s caught casino fever.

We escaped the turmoil in Columbia County. Nobody suggested building a casino here. Thank you very much, gaming industry, for your lack of interest. From what people say, you haven’t offended us. We’re relieved.

It’s no relief though that the legislature and the governor have left so many issues unresolved this close to June 19, when the session is scheduled to end. What about the Common Core curriculum or the minimum wage? Maybe it’s better that candidates debate them as election issues. They will still be relevant in 2015, when all lawmakers and a governor take the oath of office.

There’s one issue, however, that would make a difference immediately in the lives of people who suffer from illnesses none of us would want to have. The use of medical marijuana should be legalized before the legislature adjourns.

Marijuana is not a harmless drug. There are no harmless drugs. Aspirin could kill me and plenty of other people. Don’t take aspirin? Do you know the risks of overdosing on Tylenol?

We need more research on the effects of marijuana and on cannabis, its active ingredient. This is a way to gather facts. Keep in mind that we also need more research on many of the most widely prescribed medications; we also need independent studies that aren’t paid for by the companies that make the drugs and we need to know about studies the drug companies keep secret because they reveal the risks of prescription drugs.

In other words, when people are in pain, when children are in pain, it is unconscionable that this state forbids them the comfort that marijuana can bring. We’re holding marijuana to a higher standard than drugs we buy at the pharmacy.

There is still debate and uncertainty in the medical community about how marijuana should be used and which patients benefit from this drug rather than from other medications. There is also concern about the impact on the health of children and adults who smoke marijuana.

But the medical profession does have substantial evidence that using marijuana helps some patients undergoing cancer treatment, or those who suffer from forms of childhood epilepsy or from Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, among other maladies.

People who want marijuana can find it. But the transaction of seeking relief from pain caused by an illness diagnosed by a doctor can make criminals of the patients who seek relief as well as their suppliers. This creates needless anxiety. What’s more, asking police to enforce unjust and unrealistic laws is a misuse of public resources. And suggesting that cops turn a blind eye to the medical use of the drug undermines the essential role police play in our society.

This state has neither the money nor the moral justification to continue defining sick people as outlaws. There is no sane reason to continue doing it.
Governor Cuomo outlined a timid medical marijuana legalization at the beginning of the year. The Assembly has adopted a more vigorous measure, and the state Senate has a bill under consideration (S4406, A-2013). But one senator is blocking it in committee. Surely there is room enough for compromise to put a responsible bill before the full Senate.

Every day the major media report on communities eager to attract a gambling casino, even though data show that casinos do not deliver the economic benefits they promise but they do enable people hooked on gambling to pursue their addiction. Meanwhile a medical marijuana bill designed to relieve pain and suffering languishes in the Senate, held hostage by politicians who say they fear the dangers of the drug, even when used under medical supervision. That kind of dual standard is breathtaking in its ignorance and hypocrisy.

There will be mistakes with medical marijuana. There will be those who abuse the program. At its best, a law will not meet the need for the drug nor will it answer all questions about its use. But it will begin to help our fellow New Yorkers who are hurting and require help now. The Senate and Assembly should agree on a medical marijuana legalization bill and the governor should sign it before the session ends.

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