Pubdate: Thu, 22 Dec 2011
Source: Villager, The (New York, NY)
Copyright: 2011sCommunity Media LLC
Author: Paul DeRienzo


A joint oversight committee of the City Council held a contentious 
hearing last month over an attempt by the Council to support passage 
of a state law legalizing medical marijuana. The Council's resolution 
asks the state Legislature to pass the bill - which is sponsored by 
Tom Duane in the state Senate and Richard Gottfried in the Assembly - 
but which has languished for years in the warrens of Albany. Similar 
to a law recently passed in New Jersey, the legislation would closely 
regulate use and distribution of marijuana.

Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia make provisions for 
medical use of pot. All except California require the patient to 
suffer from major illnesses. California leaves it to the patient's 
doctor to decide if the condition would be helped by a joint.

In fact, California was not the first state allowing medical 
marijuana. New York passed a law allowing for medical use of marijuana 
in 1980, called the "Antonio G. Olivieri Controlled Substance 
Therapeutic Research Program" after a state assemblyman who died of 
brain cancer that year. That law, still on the books, says the program 
is limited to "cancer patients, glaucoma patients and patients 
inflicted with other diseases...approved by the commissioner." The 
program also set up a "Patient Qualification Review Board," but 
reportedly the program was inactivated in the late 1980s.

The United States maintains that the various state laws legalizing 
medical marijuana are invalid because of federal laws that categorize 
marijuana as a "Schedule 1" drug with no redeeming value whatsoever.

The Justice Department has threatened that it will no longer tolerate 
the unlicensed dispensaries and pot growers proliferating in 
California since voters approved a broadly worded proposition 
legalizing medical marijuana there in 1996.

On Nov. 18, New York City councilmembers met to hear testimony on the 
medical use of marijuana and fate of the medical marijuana bill 
collecting dust in Albany. The measure supporting the Albany bill was 
authored by Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who co-chaired the meeting and 
was joined by Councilmembers Gale Brewer, David Greenfield, G. Oliver 
Koppel - a former state attorney general - and Ruben Wills.

They heard testimony from Dr. Adam Karpati, executive deputy 
commissioner of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; 
Ellen Brickman of the New York State Nurses Association; a former law 
enforcement official; an addiction medicine doctor; and Arlene 
Williams, known as the "Ganja Granny"; as well as Assemblymember 
Gottfried and state Senator Duane.

Dr. Kapati, the only speaker representing the city, expressed the 
Bloomberg administration's opposition to the measure. His points 
reflected a circular argument that because medical marijuana lacks 
"clear, scientifically validated medical benefits" for medical use and 
numerous alleged drawbacks, it should not be legal. Activists and 
supporters of the bill say they welcome research but claim that 
scientists are being stymied by the government.

The joint oversight committee's final report says that the federal 
Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency have 
erected almost insurmountable hurdles to research into the medicinal 
properties of cannabis. Unlike almost any other area of research, a 
scientist looking into pot has to get permission from both the F.D.A. 
and D.E.A. to obtain a valid license to possess it, and then apply to 
access the drug, which is only available from government storehouses. 
According to the City Council oversight committee report, "Marijuana 
is the only major drug for which the federal government controls the 
only legal research supply."

Brickman of the Nurses Association testified that, "The safety of 
medical use of marijuana has been firmly demonstrated." She claimed 
that pot as a medicine is supported by "more than 100 articles on the 
therapeutic use of the drug" published in the 19th century before 
marijuana became politically controversial in the 20th century.

Brickman also cited positive reports published over the years, such as 
by the commission headed by former Pennsylvania Governor Raymond 
Schafer during the Nixon presidency that advised decriminalizing 
cannabis. Brickman added that marijuana as a medicine is also getting 
positive reviews in Canada, Britain and the Netherlands, where it's 
prescribed by doctors. She concluded by asserting that, having been 
used for thousands of years, marijuana is probably safer and more 
effective than many drugs approved by the F.D.A.

Among the witnesses testifying before the oversight committee in City 
Hall's ornate Council Chambers was Arlene Williams, a 74-year-old 
cancer survivor who has tirelessly advocated for legalizing the 
medicinal use of marijuana. Dubbed the "Ganja Granny," she said she 
was buoyed by the "positive atmosphere" during the hearings and felt 
the Council would "have legalized it right there" if medical marijuana 
was brought to a vote.

Gottfried testified that his medical marijuana legislation is 
"sensible, strict and humane," but that "political correctness run 
amok [is resulting in the] suffering of thousands of our fellow New 
Yorkers." His bill would license and regulate "registered 
organizations" to dispense marijuana to certified patients. 
Gottfried's system would allow a "practitioner" - someone licensed to 
prescribe a controlled substance - to certify that a person is sick 
enough to get pot.

Bridget Brennan, the New York special narcotics prosecutor, said she 
doesn't oppose medical marijuana, but disagrees that Gottfried's bill 
is strict enough in controlling access and distribution of pot. 
Brennan sent a letter to the committee stating her position opposing 
the bill with a fundamentally NIMBY stance that it, "Allows an 
unlimited number of unregulated marijuana dispensaries to proliferate 
anywhere, including next to schools, public parks and other highly 
inappropriate locations." She also worries that the quality of the 
marijuana cannot be checked for pesticides and may aid Mexican drug cartels.

Whatever the problems delaying the bill, patients who say they benefit 
from marijuana are facing a bleak future. Barbara Jackson, another 
medical marijuana cancer patient, died a few years after she made 
headlines when she was arrested trying to buy her "medicine" on a 
Bronx street. Her case was soon dropped but illustrated what patients 
face without a legitimate supply of the drug that's been proved to 
them as a lifesaver.

Arlene Williams, who will soon turn 75, said, "I think they should 
give us marijuana." Speaking of the gay community that is beginning to 
support the Gottfried bill, she said, "We helped you get out of the 
closet, now you can help us get out of ours."
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.