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New front on medical marijuana: Republican offers legalization bill, but would ban smoking

Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), in a memo

Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), in a memo supporting the bill, said medical marijuana “can ease patients’ pain and suffering where other medications have failed.” Above, a marijuana plant in Uruguay on Monday, April 25, 2014. Credit: Getty Images / Pablo Porciuncula

ALBANY -- A Long Island Republican senator has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes but prohibit "delivery through smoking," adding a new wrinkle to what is expected to be a high-profile debate in the final month of the state legislative session.

Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), in a memo supporting the bill, said medical marijuana "can ease patients' pain and suffering where other medications have failed."

Boyle said the state "should allow patients to legally use medical marijuana if recommended by a health care provider." But allowing medical marijuana to be smoked is "inappropriate since smoking has been shown to be a significant health risk," he said.

Boyle is the first Republican to submit a medical marijuana proposal. So far, the charge has been led by Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan).

All the proposals in play differ on smoking: Savino prohibits anyone younger than 21 from smoking marijuana as treatment; Gottfried would place no restrictions on smoking.

"Prohibiting smoked medical marijuana would be wrong," Gottfried said in an email, responding to Boyle's proposal. "For some patients, inhaling isn't right -- for others, it's perfectly safe. The choice ought to be up to the patient and the doctor, not the legislature. That said, I'm pleased to see more and more Senate support for the value of medical marijuana."

Savino said her proposal contains more precautions for seed-to-sale tracking and regulating of medical marijuana than Boyle's bill.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo remains opposed to a broad medical marijuana program -- even as a growing number of legislators have voiced support, citing stories by patients who say medical marijuana has eased seizures and chronic pain.

Cuomo, a Democrat who is up for re-election and is considered a possible candidate for president in 2016, shifted his position subtly this year by proposing a limited medical marijuana research program.

He supports reviving an obscure 1980 law to begin a research program in which 20 hospitals could dispense medical marijuana with certain conditions. The program would use pot seized in drug busts, which some say is risky.

Patients who want medical marijuana legalized have said Cuomo's plan is far too limited to help many people.

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