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NY Times Editorial: A Vote on Medical Marijuana

New York Times editorial board, 6/1/14

The New York State Assembly easily approved a law legalizing medical marijuana last Tuesday, and there appear to be enough votes to pass similar legislation in the State Senate if that chamber’s leaders agree to allow a vote. They ought to do so before the legislative session ends on June 19. The bills would make the drug available, under tight regulation, to patients who, in many cases, do not get relief from other medications.

The Assembly bill, passed on a 91-to-34 vote, would allow the possession and use of up to two and a half ounces of marijuana by patients certified as seriously ill. It would permit dispensaries to deliver the drug to registered users and their caregivers in a system designed to prevent abuse or illegal uses of the drug.

A Senate version of the measure, sponsored by Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat, was recently approved by the Senate Health Committee. It bans homegrown marijuana and allows up to 20 manufacturers to grow marijuana indoors under tight security to prevent diversion to illegal uses. It lists 20 specific conditions, including cancer and AIDS, that would be eligible for treatment with medical marijuana, and it requires that prescriptions be written by doctors, physician assistants or nurse practitioners who certify that the patient has a serious condition, will be under their care and will likely benefit from medical marijuana. It also prohibits the smoking of medical marijuana by anyone under 21, although the drug could be prescribed to younger patients in other forms, such as edible products infused with marijuana.

Critics of the bills have expressed concern that smoking marijuana, which has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, may carry health hazards. Some have also suggested that the Legislature wait for the results of a more limited pilot program announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January. That plan would restrict distribution to 20 hospitals and use strains of marijuana that might not be best for many patients.

The next hurdle is the Senate Finance Committee, where prospects are uncertain. Ms. Savino says 39 senators have told her they will vote for her bill if it reaches the floor, more than the 32 votes needed for passage. The bill has wide support from medical groups and patient advocates, and polls show that a large majority of New Yorkers support medical marijuana. It is time for Senate leaders to allow a vote.