Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jan 2014
Source: Times Union (Albany, NY)
Copyright: 2014 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation


Our opinion: While we commend the governor for trying to make medical
marijuan a reality in New York, a new law would be far better than
what looks like a limited, ad hoc program.

What is it about medical marijuana that makes New York governors and
legislators so squeamish?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo certainly deserves credit for going further than his
predecessors, as he prepares to use the power of his office to allow
at least some people who could benefit from marijuana's medicinal
properties to obtain it legally. But the governor's expected action
appears more cautious than it ought to be.

Nor should this have to be done as an end run around the Legislature.
New York lawmakers should get over themselves and their fears about
their law-and-order image - we're talking to you, state Senate - and
write a clear law that finally allows doctors to prescribe cannabis
using their best professional judgment, and creates a system for
patients to obtain it as they can any prescribed drug.

This is hardly some radical or politically volatile idea. Twenty
states and the District of Columbia already allow the use of medical
marijuana, including our neighbors Connecticut, Massachusetts, New
Jersey and Vermont. And public support is strong: A Siena poll last
year found that 82 percent of New York voters approved of the idea.

Mr. Cuomo plans to announce an executive action, using existing state
law, that would allow just 20 hospitals to prescribe marijuana to
patients with cancer, glaucoma or other diseases. It would be done
under guidelines set by the state Health Department.

That's a start. But there is more the governor could do with an eye to
humane treatment of patients, while stopping far short of legalizing
retail sales of pot for recreational use, as Colorado just did.

Why, for instance, can't a qualified doctor be trusted to write a pot
prescription - just as the state already trusts physicians to decide
whether their patients require far more potent and addictive
narcotics? Why can't the state's physician disciplinary process handle
any potential abuse of the authority to write a marijuana
prescription, just as it does with other drugs?

It's unclear how limited or expansive the standards will be.
Marijuana, after all, is known to have benefits beyond relieving
nausea for cancer patients and pain for glaucoma sufferers. Research
suggests it can stimulate appetite, relieve muscle tension and spasms,
help with insomnia, reduce chronic pain and lessen anxiety.

Of course, the state doesn't want doctors dashing off scripts to
anyone who says they're a bit stressed out. But what is it about this
drug that suggests doctors can't use medical judgment in deciding if
its application would be in their patients' best interests?

Marijuana may be the only drug that politicians refuse to allow
doctors to prescribe if the pharmaceutical industry already has
something else to treat that condition - even if that alternative is
not as effective, is more addictive or physically harmful, is more
costly, or even all of the above. It's reefer policy madness.

For too long, New York has forced people in search of the kinds of
relief marijuana can bring to act like criminals. It's time for the
Legislature to make this a matter between doctors and patients, and
for politicians to get out of the examination room.
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