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North country politicians oppose medical marijuana bill

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North country state representatives are opposed to a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in New York.

The bill is proposed in the Assembly by Committee on Health Chairman Richard N. Gottfried, D-Manhattan, and in the Senate by state Sen. Diane J. Savino, D-Staten Island/Brooklyn. It would set up a system by which the state Department of Health would license and regulate organizations that could dispense medical marijuana to certified patients.

To a great extent, the objections of north country representatives focused on the conflict with the federal government that the measure would create.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said she would not support the legalization of medical marijuana at the state level because the federal government has not yet made the substance legal.

“It’s not the law of the land,” Mrs. Russell said. “It would set up a conflict between the federal and state government and put those that may need it in a difficult position.”

Mrs. Russell also said that the availability of medical marijuana often serves as a gateway for more illegal drug use and that she has not seen a proposal that effectively restricts marijuana to medical purposes.

Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, has voiced concerns about medical marijuana in three areas, according to his chief of staff, Brian Peck.

Unlike other prescription drugs, marijuana has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and variations in manufacturing, quality and possible contamination with other substances would be difficult to detect, Mr. Blankenbush said via email.

He also said he was concerned about the effect that legalizing medical marijuana would have on law enforcement. During the last vote in 2012, the New York State Police Conference opposed the bill, Mr. Blankenbush said.

And discrepancies between state and federal regulations also concern Mr. Blankenbush.

“Marijuana is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law. There needs to be more discussion between law enforcement, the FDA and changes with Federal Law before we put patients, doctors, and business owners into a bad position,” Mr. Blankenbush said in the email.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, was not available for comment Monday, but her spokeswoman, Sarah Compo, said Mrs. Ritchie does not support relaxing drug laws.

The proposed system in New York state would impose an excise tax on manufacturing and dispensing medical marijuana. Fifty percent of the revenue would be shared with the municipality where the marijuana was either manufactured or dispensed and 50 percent would go to the state. Five percent of the state’s share would go toward funding alcohol and substance abuse treatment, according to the bill.

Public hearings about the proposed legislation will be held Dec. 5 in Buffalo and Dec. 18 in Mineola.

Oral testimony is by invitation only. To obtain more information about the public hearing or to submit an application to testify, visit http://wdt.me/WhSMnn.

Medical marijuana legal in 20 states, D.C.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The only state contiguous to New York that has not legalized in is Pennsylvania. It is legal in all of the New England states.
In August, the Department of Justice issued new guidelines for federal prosecutors regarding the enforcement of statutes related to medical marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.
“The Department of Justice is committed to the CSA consistent with those determinations. The Department is also committed to using its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent, and rational way,” Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole wrote in a memo to all United States attorneys.
According to the memo, the department is focusing its efforts on eight enforcement priorities in the wake of the legalization of medical marijuana for medical purposes in several states.
Prosecutors have been advised to focus their enforcement efforts on preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing proceeds from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana, and preventing drugged driving, among other enforcement priorities.
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