The 2013-14 NYS legislative session has come to an end. During the final week, hundreds of bills were passed. However, the legislation that got the most attention was legislation that legalized medical marijuana. On a number of occasions in the past, I have voted against the legalization of medical marijuana. I did so for a number of reasons. Among those reasons were: (i) my concerns that this was really a backdoor way in which to legalize the recreational use of marijuana; (ii) the lack of sufficient safeguards to prevent the widespread distribution and use of marijuana; and (iii) the lack of research demonstrating that marijuana had any medicinal benefits. I was not alone with these concerns. Past reiterations of this bill have garnered significant “no” votes in the Assembly and consistently failed to get enough support in the Senate to even get to the floor for a vote.
However, in what is a rare occurrence in Albany, the sponsors of the initial legislation to legalize marijuana agreed to sit down with the Governor and others and amend the legislation in order to take into account the legitimate concerns of those who opposed it. As a result, a compromise was reached and legislation to legalize medical marijuana was passed in both houses with limited opposition. Indeed, I changed my vote and this time supported the bill because the changes that were made addressed many of the concerns I had.
As a general matter, I, and I think most legislators, have great sympathy for those patients who are suffering from terrible illness and who find therapeutic relief from the use of marijuana. Who wants to deny a patient relief particularly when they are terminally ill? Indeed, current law allows drugs much more dangerous than marijuana to be prescribed (e.g., morphine or hydrocodone) to help patients control pain and improve quality of life. Advocates for the legislation argued why then shouldn’t doctors be able to prescribe marijuana. They have a good point although there is very little evidence that demonstrates that smoking marijuana has any medicinal benefit.