Pubdate: Wed, 21 May 2014
Source: New York Daily News (NY)
Copyright: 2014 Daily News, L.P.
Author: Bill Hammond


It's not every vote of the state Senate Health Committee that's
greeted with applause from ordinary citizens. But the dozens of New
Yorkers packed into Room 124 of the state Capitol on Tuesday had
reason to celebrate. In a 9-8 nail-biter, the committee voted to
approve the Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize medical
marijuana in New York State - moving the bill closer to becoming law
than it has ever been before.

"I am beyond words excited," said one member of the cheering section,
Melissa Hilt of East Greenbush. "It gives my daughter a chance, and
that's all we're looking for."

Hilt's beautiful little girl, 7-year-old Haley, had dozed through the
big moment in her wheelchair - sleepiness being a side effect of the
multiple heavy-duty drugs she takes to control her epilepsy. She still
suffers as many as 20 to 30 seizures a day - electrical storms in her
brain that have left her unable to walk or talk normally.

Why does Hilt, a registered nurse, think marijuana can help

Because it worked for the daughter of a friend who moved to Colorado
to try it.

"Her daughter is now trying to walk," Melissa says. "Her daughter has
had multiple days of seizure freedom, which we can only dream about."

That little girl's grandmother, Cindy Tangney of Chester, was at the
Capitol, too. One-year-old Mabel is doing well, but her daughter and
son-in-law now live half a continent apart because of the humaneness
gap between Colorado and New York.

Tangney personally lobbied her senator, Republican Bill Larkin - who
ended up casting the deciding committee vote in favor of legalization.
"He met with us and promised he would do the right thing," Tangney
said. "Obviously, he did."

Also celebrating Tuesday's legislative breakthrough was Kira Coburn,
who made the trip to Albany from Manhattan.

A bubbly 20-year-old, Coburn says she has a raft of painful ailments
she formerly treated with narcotics until she found that marijuana
worked better for her.

"I'm not afraid to say I use it daily, and since using it daily I'm
completely morphine-free.

"The only way to obtain it is illegally, unfortunately," she adds.
"We're trying to change that."

Trying and gradually succeeding - largely because stories like hers
and Hilt's and Tangney's are becoming hard to ignore.

"We have to do something," Larkin said after the vote. "These are
families fighting for their children and pleading with us to do
something. My vote today was my conscience."

These familes, after all, aren't asking for a handout or a special
favor, only a measure of freedom to take advantage of the soothing
effects of a naturally occuring drug that vast number of Americans -
up to and including the President - have at least tried. A drug that's
authorized for medical purposes in 21 states, not to mention Canada,
Israel and the United Kingdom.

A drug no more harmful or addictive than alcohol - and that should be
just as legal.

Standing in the way of sensible progress are politicians and law
enforcement officials who are just fine with alcohol drinkers but
throw the book at pot users.

Among them is NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. When City Council
members Tuesday pressed him on why his department continues busting
thousands of New Yorkers - the vast majority of them black or Hispanic
- - for pot possession, Bratton said: "The idea of decriminalizing
marijuana, I think, is a major mistake and something I will never support."

But as he well knows, it was decriminalized here back in 1977. That
law, still on the books, is honored mostly in the breach.

As carefully designed by its energetic sponsor, Staten Island Sen.
Diane Savino, the Compassionate Care Act would avoid the Wild West
abuses seen in California. It would carefully track the cannabis from
"seed to sale," with a bar code on each plant, to prevent legal
product from leaking into the black market.

It would authorize marijuana use only for a limited list of serious
conditions - not just vague complaints - and only with a physician's

"It's about doing something that's going to affect the lives of
people," Savino said.

She warned the bill still must get through the Finance Committee and
the full Senate. It then needs approval from the Democrat-led
Assembly, which has okayed similar measures in the past, and a
signature from Gov. Cuomo, who has sent mixed signals.

"This is step one," Savino said. "It's a huge step. It's historic for
all of us. We are by no means at the end of the line yet."
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