Analysis: The Politics of Killing Pain

A battle over marijuana use confronts Albany

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    Senator Diane Savino of Staten Island is trying to put through a bill legalizing medical marijuana -- but Governor Andrew Cuomo says he won’t sign it.

    It seems a simple matter but, like many issues in Albany, it grows complicated as it lingers. Savino insists the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes will make the quality of life better for many patients. Cuomo says that, while it may have some benefits, the legislation has many risks, too.

    Clearly, there are political obstacles to passage of the legislation. What those obstacles are is hardly clear. Neither the medical profession, the Republican majority in the state Senate nor the governor have helped clarify precisely what’s holding up the bill.

    There seems to be a game of hocus pocus going on. Even as a Siena poll showed that 57 percent of the public wants to legalize medical marijuana, the legislation seems to be going nowhere. The very thought of legalizing cannabis sativa for medical purposes seems to give politicians and some doctors, the shivers.

    Marijuana plants go back 3,000 years. They’re described in Indian and Chinese medical texts.

    They were used to treat intestinal pain, cholera, epilepsy, bronchitis, whooping cough and asthma. The substance has been known to decrease nausea and increase appetite in people with cancer and AIDS.

    At an Albany news conference, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, the bill’s co-sponsor, said: "Thousands of New Yorkers suffer from serious debilitating and life-threatening conditions whose lives could be made more livable and longer in many cases if we allow them to be treated under medical supervision with the use of medical marijuana."

    Senate Republicans are lukewarm to the bill. Governor Cuomo said last month he’s opposed to it.

    Savino, a Democrat who is co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, is staying positive. She told me: "While we don’t expect to get the bill passed before the scheduled end of the session in late June, we’re very optimistic that we’ll have the votes by the end of the year. We think we’re moving very fast in that direction and both Republicans and Democrats will soon be on the same page, with a majority for legalization. It’s inevitable."

    There are now 17 states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

    It seems highly unfair, if not brutal, to deny people suffering debilitating pain the relief that comes with the use of medical marijuana. This is a medical issue and a moral one. The legislature should not let it become politicized. New York can do better than that.