Electeds Respond To Medical Marijuana Push

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BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Staff Writer

This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would pursue an executive action to allow the limited use of medical marijuana in New York. His pilot program will allow 20 hospitals across the State to prescribe marijuana to people suffering from debilitating diseases like cancer and glaucoma.

The news comes as a stark contrast to Cuomo’s previous stance. During his first three years in office, the governor vehemently resisted the legalization of medical marijuana. His shift comes after a number of states have taken increasingly liberal positions on it, most notably Colorado, where cannabis became legal for recreational use on Jan. 1.
Although it is too soon to tell when the drug will be available to patients, a number of politicians are weighing in on the news, many of which seem to be in support of the governor’s pilot program.

Former City Comptroller John Liu, who sat on the health committee while serving as a Queens Councilman, has long been in favor of legalizing marijuana. During his mayoral campaign Liu even put out a concrete proposal to legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use, so it comes as no surprise he has thrown his full support behind the plan.

“This is great news for the estimated 100,000 plus New Yorkers suffering in pain whose doctors will finally be able to prescribe marijuana, much the same way doctors in 20 other states already do,” Liu said.

Others, like State Sen. Jose Peralta, who sits on the New York State Health Committee, took a more cautious approach.

“This is potentially welcome news for the many New Yorkers suffering from serious illnesses such as cancer and glaucoma, but I’m going to withhold comment on the order until the details are spelled out,” he said.

Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), who sponsored legislation to restrict the use of e-cigarettes inside establishments last month, also came out in favor of Cuomo’s plan to legalize marijuana.

“Some people don’t necessarily like to take medication and marijuana plays a role in soothing some of the pain. For those legitimate people who really do have medical issues and want to utilize it for that reason, I see it as a plus for them,” Richards said.

“I had an aunt who passed away about three years ago from cancer. It spread so immensely and she was in so much pain,” he added. “Her body did not take to the medication well and I’m sure that could have aided her. We want to give people avenues that will help those suffering stay around a little longer and ease the discomfort.”

Though Richards said he believes Cuomo’s plan is a worthy pilot, he does have some reservations.

“One of the things we have to see is how that reverts down to the local communities. Do the big hospitals just get it? Will smaller community hospitals benefit from this program? I don’t think the community hospitals should be left out if they are doing legitimate work and working with cancer patients as well,” he said.

Richards also expressed concerns that the pilot program might give New Yorkers the wrong perception of medical marijuana.

“Especially when it comes to drugs, you want to make sure that first we understand how it works,” he said. “Of course, we don’t want to promote that if you burn your finger on a stove, you need medical marijuana.”

Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or nkozikowska@queenspress.com or @nkozikowska.