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Lawmakers push for broader medical marijuana plan

This photo shows marijuana clone plants that are

This photo shows marijuana clone plants that are used to grow medical marijuana displayed under a light, at The Joint, a medical marijuana cooperative in Seattle on Oct. 16, 2013. Credit: AP / Ted S. Warren

ALBANY -- State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah said Monday that he expects marijuana will be sold legally in New York for certain medical uses within a year, but several legislators are pushing for a much broader program.

"I think your department is going down the wrong way and in many ways is wasting its time," said Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island). She noted other states have broader medical marijuana laws, which has forced sick New Yorkers to travel for care.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's order to allow medical use of marijuana would be subject to strict regulations to try to avoid abuses reported in other states. Cuomo wants the drug, now illegal in New York, to be used only for specific grave illnesses such as cancer and AIDS, and dispensed at only 20 hospitals statewide.

Savino and several other Democrats, however, argued in a budget hearing that the proposal should be expanded under legislation to allow more patients and physicians to make use of marijuana for a wider variety of ailments such as pain, nausea and anxiety.

Monday, Shah said the governor will consider any broader bill passed by the legislature.

A Siena College poll last month found half of voters supported broader legalization of medical marijuana as done in 20 other states. No political group felt medical marijuana should remain illegal. Less a third, however, supported Cuomo's more tentative approach.

But Senate Republicans, who share majority control with the Independent Democratic Conference, oppose the measure. A spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment Monday.

"We're confident the votes are there based on our [private] conversations," said Gabriel Sayegh, director of the Drug Policy Alliance's New York policy. "But we haven't seen anything publicly yet."

Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) is sponsoring a broader bill with Savino that would allow marijuana to be used to help alleviate symptoms associated with many more illnesses.

The "Compassionate Care Act" would legalize possession, purchase, use and delivery of medical marijuana by a "certified patient" or "designated caregiver" when a health professional deems marijuana should be used for unspecified serious conditions. The amount would be limited to 2.5 ounces, and the system would be regulated by the Health Department using identification cards.


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