New York must find a way to allow safe and controlled use of medical marijuana - The Buffalo News
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New York must find a way to allow safe and controlled use of medical marijuana

Wherever anyone falls in the debate over relaxing laws on marijuana, the discussion has to acknowledge people such as Wendy Conte’s daughter, Anna. The 8-year-old from Orchard Park has suffered regular, severe epileptic seizures since she was 2 months old. As her mother has learned, a child in Colorado has gained significant relief from her epileptic seizures by mixing into her food cannabis oil – medical marijuana.

That debate is being joined in New York as advocates look to the State Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to follow the lead of Colorado and 19 other states in legalizing medical marijuana.

The Compassionate Care Act sponsored by Richard Gottfried, chairman of the Health Committee in the Assembly, and Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, would allow people with serious medical conditions to use medical marijuana under the supervision of a health care professional. The bill would be restricted to those suffering from “severely debilitating or life-threatening conditions.”

Many people, in and out of government, oppose relaxing these laws, but here’s what the issue means to Anna, who was featured in a riveting story by News reporter Mary B. Pasciak. Anna has to live with a tube constantly feeding drugs into her belly in order to stave off seizures that have been a constant throughout her life. It’s a painful image. Just as that of a little girl featured in August in a CNN documentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta that included footage of Charlotte Figi, a girl in Colorado with Dravet syndrome – the same severe form of epilepsy that grips Anna.

Charlotte was having as many as 300 seizures a week, each lasting as long as three hours and landing her in the hospital 70 times, according to her mother. Now, at age 6, she has only two or three seizures a month. The difference? Charlotte lives in Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal, and she takes doses of cannabis oil in her food twice a day.

Medical marijuana has always been a hot-button topic. Many people believe that marijuana in any form is a gateway drug. But now that the discussion involves children, perhaps the conversation will slowly begin to turn in the direction of those advocating for the option. It may take years, but just as the legalization of gay marriage once seemed out of the realm of possibility, the legalization of medical marijuana may find broad favor.

Each side has legitimate points to make – though drug abuse surely has at least as much to do with the individual as the drug. Hospitals aren’t routinely producing morphine addicts. One way or another, though, New York law has to be able to respond to dire medical conditions such as Anna’s. There has to be a way to distinguish between genuine and fake cases. This version of the legislation does include modifications such as stricter reporting requirements that would enable the state to keep closer tabs on doctors’ prescriptions. But would it be enough? No one should want to replicate California, with its loose medical marijuana regulations adopted in 1996.

Still, there are those who take serious issue with medical marijuana. Sydney Drowning, also profiled in The News, has a compelling story about her own downhill spiral starting with marijuana and progressing to hard drugs.

Drowning’s story is one example of why politicians such as State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, strongly oppose the legislation. The threat of Conservative Party disfavor toward any Republican daring to speak out in favor of the bill is daunting and helps explain why the Assembly has approved legalization of medical marijuana on more than one occasion, but it has never come to a vote in the Senate.

What can change minds is a child’s life. Republicans largely opposed same-sex marriage, but former Vice President Dick Cheney was one of the few party leaders supporting it. Why? One of his daughters is gay. He understood that the question wasn’t theoretical.

One hopes it doesn’t take a deathly ill child of a political opponent for state legislators to find a way to make this work.

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