Medical marijuana is legal in 14 states; why not New York?
February 01, 2010, 5:02AM
It makes no sense whatsoever to treat cancer patients and other chronically ill folks as criminals for trying to ease their debilitating pain or nausea.
But that’s just what New York has been doing by refusing to allow its sickest residents to use marijuana under a doctor’s supervision. For many, prescription painkillers or other medicines fail to help. Only marijuana is effective. Denying them that level of comfort is nothing less than cruel.
Fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana use for qualified patients since 1996. The most recent, on Jan. 18, was New Jersey; that state’s law takes effect in six months.
In New York, a bill in the Legislature would bring the state in line with the other 14. But lawmakers have considered seven versions of the current legislation since the 1997-98 session. In 2007-08, the proposal died in the Senate, then controlled by Republicans. The fate of this year’s bill remains to be seen.
The bill is modeled after Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law, though there are some differences. For example, patients in Rhode Island can legally possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana and 12 marijuana plants that must be stored indoors. New York’s bill also allows 2.5 ounces but leaves out plants — an approach that appears to be better suited to prevent the wrong people from getting their hands on the controlled substance.
Both states would allow children to use medical marijuana, but Rhode Island’s law seems to afford more protection for sick kids. In Rhode Island, a medical practitioner must explain the potential risks and benefits of marijuana to the child and to a parent or guardian. The parent or guardian also must consent in writing to allow the child’s medical use of marijuana, serve as one of the child’s primary caregivers and control the acquisition, dosage and frequency of the youngster’s marijuana use.
New York’s bill requires only that a parent, guardian or someone designated by the parent or guardian be the caregiver. There is no informed consent clause in the bill, although the medical practitioner must give a copy of his or her certification for marijuana use to the patient. The bill needs some retooling to better inform kids and their parents of what they’re getting into.
In the meantime, marijuana use and possession remain illegal for everyone in New York. Possessing 2.5 ounces, as the bill would allow patients to do, is a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Seriously ill people, for whom marijuana is the only thing that will relieve their symptoms, have an unenviable choice: break the law or continue to suffer.
It’s time for lawmakers to show some compassion by making medical marijuana legal.