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High Hopes

The state Senate moves one step closer to legalizing medical marijuana

by Ali Hibbs on February 25, 2010

On Tuesday, the New York State Senate Health Committee passed legislation that would allow for the sale and possession of medical marijuana in the state of New York. Settle down, it’s not a law yet. The bill, S. 4041-B, must still pass the Senate Codes Committee before being put before the Senate. Even then, it won’t necessarily get voted on.

Enter NY Patients First, a new advocacy group for patients who would benefit from the legalization of medicinal marijuana in New York state. The group’s Web site says that because “the Senate has a history and habit of only scheduling bills for a floor vote if they know they are going to pass . . . we must keep on working to convince more Senators that this bill is worthy of them passing into law, or at the very least, to not block it from passing.”

To this end, NYPF held a press conference in the Legislative Office Building shortly after the vote took place. In addition to discussing some of the particular aspects of the bill, NYFC also invited several chronically ill patients to speak about their experience with medical marijuana.

Danny Searles undeniably was in pain. The effort it took him to stand at the podium and plead his case was evident. He has been through three back surgeries, as many back fusions and, in recent years, has also been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He said that he worries about the effect that years of pharmaceutical painkillers are having on his health. “I prefer to have a choice, rather than messing up my liver.”

Searles claimed that a small amount of marijuana effectively replaces the Percocet pills on which he currently depends and argued that the lack of accessibility can lead potential patients to other, more dangerous street drugs, such as heroin.

Burton Aldrich began advocating the legalization of medical marijuana seven years ago, when he met the patient coordinator of NYPF, Robert Robinson, while in school. Suffering from multiple spinal injuries, Aldrich is confined to a wheelchair and suffers from severe nerve pain and spasms. It is not just about the health benefits of medicinal marijuana for Aldrich; it’s about being able to remain himself. “As of about six months [ago], I’m totally free and clean from pharmaceuticals, and now my body feels alive.”

Aldrich’s home was raided, and he is currently facing charges for being in possession of nine ounces of cannabis that he kept for personal use. Aldrich said that he doesn’t want to be made a criminal for doing something that he feels helps him to “live more fully in society.”

A report recently issued by the Center for Medical Cannabis Research at the University of California San Diego determined that pot is effective in reducing pain caused by neurological problems or illness and helps to reduce muscle spasms associated with diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

The date has yet to be set for the bill to go before the committee.