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Breaking through the haze on medical marijuana

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
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Say what you will about legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational use — and voters in the states of Colorado and Washington have said yes — medical marijuana is, or at least should be, a much easier call. The dangers of abuse aren’t the same and the benefits for patients are clear.

We’re glad to see that Gov. Cuomo has changed his mind (“evolved,” as he puts it) on the issue and decided to let some hospitals administer the drug for research purposes. We also hope this limited measure leads, sooner rather than later, to doctors being able to prescribe the stuff for every patient who needs it.

That broader approach would require approval by the Legislature. In fact, the state Assembly passed such a bill in June but the Senate has refused to consider it.

Cuomo, however, is using his executive authority here — and altogether properly, since there has been a law on the books in New York state since 1980 allowing the use of marijuana for medical research on patients with certain illnesses such as cancer, glaucoma and AIDS.

Unfortunately that law, for a variety of reasons (mostly having to do with the fact that the federal government was threatening to prosecute doctors who prescribed marijuana), was basically forgotten. Until now, that is.

Societal attitudes about marijuana have changed dramatically in the past few years, and enough states have now legalized marijuana in some fashion (20 not including New York) that the Obama administration has withdrawn the threat of prosecution for those who prescribe or dispense.

It’s good that Cuomo has opened the door, but the program will be limited to 20 hospitals. This will leave some patients suffering from painful, debilitating or even terminal illnesses without the relief they need and deserve to have.

The bill that passed the Assembly would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for such patients, and the governor and Senate should go along. It’s the humane, popular (82 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of medical marijuana) and right thing to do.

 
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