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Unclear Future For Medical Marijuana In New York

The fate of a medical marijuana bill remains up in the air in New York State. The State Assembly has approved a version that would allow patients to obtain the drug for medical treatment, while a similar measure remains hung up in the State Senate.

Advocates cheered as the New York State Assembly approved a medical marijuana bill that would  permit patients to possess small amounts of marijuana to treat approved medical conditions.

The legislation also sets up licensed dispensaries to grow and sell the drug to sick people.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, of the Hudson Valley, voted with the majority of Democrats in the chamber, saying the measure would give “law abiding citizens” the chance to access needed medicine.

“This is the group that I’m most concerned with, Mr. Speaker,” Cahill said during the debate. “Those people who will not even entertain the notion of the illegal use of marijuana just because it is illegal, not because it is not efficacious.”

The measure even won some converts among Republican lawmakers. Assemblyman Steve Katz, who voted against the bill in the past, was stopped by police for allegedly possessing pot. The charges were later dropped. Since then, Katz, a veterinarian, has become an advocate for legalizing marijuana altogether, and has even invested in some marijuana businesses operating in states where the drug is legal.

“Over the past year, I've gone above and beyond to explore the beneficial aspects of medicinal cannabis and the surrounding industry,” Katz said.  

Opponents say allowing medical marijuana would increase illegal use of the drug, and increase its appeal to children.

Assemblywoman Addie Russell, of Watertown, was one of the few Democrats to vote against the measure. She says she worries about the federal laws that continue to consider marijuana of any kind illegal.

“I have a real concern about putting caregivers in a difficult position,” Russell said.

Russell’s district is adjacent to Canada, and she says it’s common for her constituents to cross the border and be subject to police searches. She says the consequences of possessing marijuana could result in very serious criminal charges against them.  

A similar measure is moving slowly through the State Senate. It’s sponsored by a member of the ruling coalition, Independent Democratic Conference member Senator Diane Savino, and has recently gained the support of maverick GOP Senator Mark Grisanti.  Senator Savino has said repeatedly that the votes are there for passage, if the measure came to the floor.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo offered a plan to allow marijuana to be dispensed at some hospitals in the state, as a pilot program, for a limited number of ailments.

But Cuomo’s health department is still seeking permission from the federal government to begin. A spokesman says the talks are “ongoing.”

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