A renewed push by New York State lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana has revived the debate on Long Island, with local anti-drug advocates opposed and patients suffering from serious diseases in favor.
Substance abuse treatment providers aired their concerns at the Long Island Marijuana Summit on Monday at the Seafield Center, a rehab facility in Amityville. But not everyone in attendance was against the idea.
“Isn’t it fair that I should be able to get something that’s regulated, something that’s controlled, something that’s legal?” asked 49-year-old Tracy Ofri of Valley Stream, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. She said she’s afraid of using marijuana sold by illegal drug dealers, who may lace the pot with other drugs, giving her a bad reaction.
“Who is going to decide that you have a severe debilitating condition? That is not defined in the bill,” said Dave Evans, executive director of Drug Free Schools Coalition of New York. “Legislators vote on these bills without even reading them.”
The proposed Compassionate Care Act, allowing certified patients to have up to eight ounces of medical marijuana, was introduced by State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn) and Assemb. Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan). The bill is in committee but both lawmakers hope that it passes before the state legislature goes on summer break in June.
If it were to become law, New York would join 19 states and the District of Columbia to have legalized medicinal cannabis since California became the first to do so in 1996. New York is bordered by four of those states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Jersey.
Although the federal government classifies marijuana as a controlled substance, the Obama administration directed the Department of Justice to not prosecute medical marijuana patients in 2009.
Colorado and Washington state voters also took the unprecedented steps of approving referendums legalizing recreational marijuana in November. It remains unclear if the feds will be as relaxed about recreational reefer in those states as they have been about medicinal marijuana.
“Any legislation in New York that helps gain access to medical marijuana for sick patients is something we support,” Troy Smit, executive director of Long Island chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told the Press. “This bill in particular this year seems to be stronger than in years passed.”