Medical marijuana compromise bill expected

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ALBANY — A key senator said Tuesday a compromise bill to legalize medical marijuana is expected later this week, signaling that lawmakers will make a full push on the issue before the legislative session ends June 19.

The two legislators who sponsor medical marijuana bills, Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), met Tuesday to hash out the differences between their proposals, Savino said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been opposed to a broad legalization of medical marijuana, announced New York will participate in a clinical trial to use a marijuana extract to treat children with some forms of epilepsy. Advocates and legislators said the clinical trial would help only a small number of people and that the governor’s announcement shouldn’t block lawmakers from moving ahead with legislation.

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Savino said lawmakers will ramp up their efforts — although just two weeks is left in the session. She said a compromise bill should be produced before the end of the week.

“It’s just trading of language now,” Savino said. “We have to get language everyone is comfortable with.”

The Democratic-dominated state Assembly approved a medical marijuana bill last week. But the politically split Senate has not acted yet.

Savino’s bill differs from Gottfried’s in that it lists 20 specific diseases or conditions that would be eligible for medical marijuana and prohibits anyone younger than 21 from smoking marijuana, though it could be prescribed in other forms.

Savino called smoking the “thing that makes most people uncomfortable,” referring to opponents and undecided legislators. Gottfried has said he is open to finding a compromise.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos has softened his resistance to medical marijuana this year, though he still opposes it in smokable form. Still, with support growing among Republicans who control the Senate, Skelos recently said: “There’s a good possibility that some bill will come to the floor” this year.

Like Skelos, Cuomo once opposed the concept altogether, but recently shifted his position subtly by proposing a limited medical marijuana research program. Though promised in January, the project still hasn’t gotten off the ground, legislators said.

The governor announced another research project Tuesday, saying the state Health Department will participate in a federal clinical trial using an active ingredient derived from marijuana. Cuomo said, in part: “Young New Yorkers battling these diseases deserve treatments that work for them, and by investigating the merits of cannabidiol, we are pushing the boundaries of modern medicine and working to fundamentally improve the quality of life for those children.”

GW Pharmaceuticals, the company conducting the trials, said it will employ cannabidiol, a marijuana extract that doesn’t get users high, and could help children with rare forms of epilepsy such as Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes.

One Long Island advocate said he’s concerned Cuomo is trying to divert attention from legislators’ campaign to legalize medical marijuana.

“He seems to have an agenda. He doesn’t want the Compassionate Care Act to go through,” said Richard Carlton, a Port Washington psychiatrist, referring to the name of Savino’s proposal.

Carlton said his wife, who has Parkinson’s disease, could get some relief from medical marijuana. “It could make a big difference in her quality of life,” Carlton said.

A Cuomo aide stressed that the state’s agreement to partake in the clinical trial had nothing to do with the debate over the Compassionate Care Act. The governor has said previously that he’d review any measures the legislature approves.


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