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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Spitzer Supports Medical Marijuana in New York

Assembly set to OK medical-marijuana bill
from the Elmira Star-Gazette
June 14, 2007
Gannett News Service

ALBANY-- With Gov. Eliot Spitzer signaling his support, the state Assembly Wednesday voted 92-52 to adopt legislation making it legal for medical patients experiencing extreme pain to receive - and even grow - marijuana.

Assembly members approved a measure introduced by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, that allows patients who have been certified by their doctors to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana or 12 plants.

The state Senate is expected to introduce its own marijuana legislation, but the two chambers have not agreed on a final bill.

For those whom marijuana "is the only thing that gives them some degree of relief should have it available to them," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan. The Assembly vote came a day after Spitzer, who as a candidate for governor last year argued against medical marijuana, said he was open to signing such legislation. Spitzer said he changed his mind after discussing the issue with medical experts and patients.

While Spitzer's comments sparked optimism among supporters of medical marijuana that New York would join the dozen other states that have such laws, it remained unclear Wednesday whether enough support existed in the Senate to move the matter forward before the end of the state Legislature's session next week.

Critics of the Assembly bill charged that it would encourage patients to engage in drug deals, which would be dangerous and, under federal law, still illegal."What this bill does is force people who are suffering into the arms of criminals," said Assemblyman Jim Hayes, R-Amherst, Erie County.

Sen. Vincent Leibell, R-Patterson. said he hopes to have a medical-marijuana bill ready this week but cautioned that the details were still being crafted. He stressed that he wanted strict limitations on the dispensing and distribution of marijuana."This is a very narrow, limited piece of legislation that is being proposed," Leibell said. "It is meant for those doctors who work in the area of pain management. It is meant to be another tool for them to help their patients, many of whom will be terminally ill."

Leibell said he decided to support medical-marijuana legislation after having conversations with friends who are terminally ill and with talk show host Montel Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Although Leibell said he was hopeful that the Assembly and Senate could agree on a bill before the end of the legislative session next week, he conceded that many details needed to be resolved.

One possible sticking point was the Assembly's provision that allows patients to possess their own marijuana plants. Leibell said he wanted to see manufacture of the drug strictly controlled, perhaps even limited to the state Health Department."Certainly we are not going to let people have plants at home," Leibell said.

The Assembly bill was modeled after a similar law adopted in Rhode Island and designed to circumvent federal laws that make it illegal to sell or distribute marijuana. It allows a doctor to certify in writing that a patient has exhausted all other forms of pain relief and would benefit from marijuana. The patient would then present the doctor's certification to the state Health Department, which would issue a registration card allowing the patient to posses or grow marijuana.

Supporters of the Assembly legislation argue that it is necessary for patients to be allowed to grow their own plants, since federal law still prohibits the sale or production of marijuana, even for medical purposes. "The bill is not perfect," Gottfried conceded. "It is, I think, as good as we can get, given the federal law."

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