Pubdate: Mon, 01 Jul 2013
Source: Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY)
Copyright: 2013 Hudson Valley Media Group
Author: James Nani


Medical marijuana can't get traction in state Legislature

KINGSTON -- With the end of New York state's 2013 legislative season
came the usual self-back-patting of accomplishments from lawmakers.

They praised things like the advent of tax-free zones, the possibility
of casinos and legalizing gay marriage.

Yet the issue of medical marijuana once again failed to make it into
law, even as its medical use gains acceptance throughout the country.

Barbara Gallagher, 51, of the Village of Florida is going for her
bachelor's degree in English at SUNY New Paltz.

Between studying, every week she goes down to New York City for her
chemotherapy treatments.

Gallagher has stage four breast cancer. She said she doesn't smoke
pot, but wants to at least try an alternate to the prescription
opiates she takes.

She said the side effects from those medications are severe, but
without them, the pain is also bad.

Nausea, vomiting and pain lay her low without them.

"It can be pretty severe. I go to bed, lie on my back and wait for
them to work. It sucks," said Gallagher.

She says she knows she could buy small amounts of marijuana if she
wanted to, but she wants things to be on the up and up.

So when the bill to legalize medical use didn't make it to the state
Senate floor, Gallagher said she was frustrated.

She drove all the way to Albany, where she said Sen. John Bonacic,
R-Mount Hope, said the bill wouldn't even make it onto the agenda for
a floor vote.

"I thought 'What was I even doing there?'" said Gallagher.

Bonacic himself says he supports the measure for people like
Gallagher, even though his chamber never took it up.

"I have no objection to allowing medical marijuana for cancer and
other patients in pain, as long as it is exclusively dispensed under a
physician's prescription through pharmacies," said Bonacic.

The Assembly passed the measure.

Their version would have patients register with the state Department
of Health. Their use of medical marijuana would be monitored to help
prevent abuse, after having a licensed physician, nurse practitioner
or physician's assistant recommend them as a candidate for its use.

The bill would also have imposed an excise tax on the manufacturing
and dispensing of medical marijuana. Part of the revenue raised from
the tax would be shared with the locality where it is manufactured or

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, supported the

"This carefully crafted proposal reflects our compassion for those who
need to alleviate their chronic pain and suffering," said Cahill.

But not everyone's convinced.

Greg Bunt, a physician with the New York chapter of the American
Society of Addiction Medicine, said there's been no serious chance of
the measure being passed in New York since 2010.

But to him, the good that medical marijuana might reap doesn't
outweigh the negatives.

Bunt said the problem with marijuana is that what it's claimed to help
doesn't work as well as other drugs.

"I think we need a better product," said Bunt.

The New York State Sheriffs' Association has also opposed the

Warren County Sheriff Nathan "Bud" York, part of the executive
committee for the association, said despite the precautions in the
bill, there's still a "huge potential" for abuse.

Members also aren't convinced of the medical benefits. But if those
benefits were clearer, the association's opinion isn't set in stone,
either, said York.

"We're not sadists; we'd support it in a heartbeat," said

Jessica Marlowe, 43, of New Paltz, said she was disappointed in the
law's failure.

She's had multiple sclerosis since 1996. Once a kindergarten teacher,
she had to quit because of fatigue and loss of fine motor skills
associated with her disease.

Marlowe said she knows marijuana helps with the stiffness and spasms
in her legs she's experienced for 17 years.

But she says that with two small children, she wants to set an example
for them to do things the legal way.

"I wish I could use it legally," she said

Since Marlowe was diagnosed, 18 states and the District of Columbia
have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

"Our leaders are way behind the people on this issue," says Julie
Netherland, deputy state director of the New York branch of the Drug
Policy Alliance, a pro-medical marijuana group.

Netherland says she was disappointed with the lack of a law this year
in Albany, but has hope for 2014.

"Next year is going to be the year," said Netherland. "The sad thing
is that folks are going to have to suffer for another year."

But for people like Gallagher, the frustration of another year without
at least a chance for a different type of relief is aimed at state

"How about you get stage four breast cancer and you decide what kind
of medication you deserve," said Gallagher.
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