Tuesday, April 21, 2009

13th Year A Charm For Medical Marijuana?

April 20, 2009

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried has been carrying a bill to legalize the use of pot by people suffering from serious medical conditions for 13 years now, but he thinks advocates of the measure might have "the best chance we've ever had" of seeing it pass this year.


The bill has passed the Democrat-dominated Assembly, where Gottfriend chairs the Health Committee, for two years in a row.

But it never moved in the heretofore GOP-controlled Senate, even though it had a majority sponsor (Sen. Vincent Leibell, albeit of a much more restrictive bill) and at least tacit support from then-Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

However, the Senate is now under Democratic control, and for the first time, the bill not only has a majority sponsor in that chamber, but it is being carried by that chamber's Health Committee chairman, Sen. Tom Duane.

Duane and Gottfried are scheduled to formally unveil their bill at a press conference in Albany tomorrow. They will be joined by patients who would benefit from medical marijuana if it was legal, including a former Army paratrooper from Liverpool who suffers from MS and a Conservative Party member from Buffalo who has chronic pain since a 2001 car accident.

Asked about the bill's prospects, Gottfried said the "session is still early," and also pointed out that the Senate majority managed to hold all of its 32 members together to deliver the state budget on time.

When my DN colleague Glenn Blain noted the Senate Democrats haven't been able to get any other significant deals since then, Gottfried said there is GOP support for the legislation.

While that may have been true in the past, there are so far zero Republicans signed on to Duane's bill.

Under the Duane/Gottfried legislation, patients with "serious conditions" (for example, suffering from chronic pain, nausea caused by chemotherapy or unable to eat due to HIV) would be able to use pot under a doctor's supervision. They would be able to purchase the drug from purveyors licensed by the state or grow small amounts at home.

UPDATE: Asked by Blain about Gottfried's bill, Leibell said: "That's just crazy." (He was referring specifically to the grow-your-own portion of the bill). He also predicted the legislation won't pass in the Senate.

It is illegal to sell or possess pot in New York, but not to buy it. Thus, a person with permission from the state to possess pot would not be criminally liable if they bought it on the street, but the person who sold it to them would, Gottfried said.

In the past, a sticking point has been the federal government's prosecution of medical marijuana providers and users. But, according to Gottfried, this is no longer a problem as US AG Eric Holder has signaled that won't be the Obama administration's approach.

Gottfried said he expects the bill to move out of the Assembly Health Committee next week and be brought to the floor of his chamber in late May or early June. He said members of the state DOH have been working with him on the bill, which, he said, demonstrates the Paterson administration is amenable on this issue.

We're still waiting for a call from the press office to determine the official position of Gov. David Paterson (who has admitted that he personally used both cocaine and marijuana "probably when I was about 20," but says he hasn't touched it since the late 70s).

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