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North country Assembly members vote against medical marijuana

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WATERTOWN — The Compassionate Care Act, a bill that would legalize marijuana for medical use in limited situations, has passed the Assembly.

And while most members of the Democratic-controlled body voted for the legislation on Tuesday, Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, did not.

The bill, which would legalize the possession, transfer, use and administration of medical marijuana by a certified patient or designated caregiver for medical use, has been passed by the Assembly before, though it has not come up for a vote on the state Senate floor.

Mrs. Russell said she voted against the bill because of the proximity of her district to the Canadian border, which is closely monitored by federal law enforcement agencies.

Mrs. Russell said that while the federal government has ceded much of the enforcement of laws against marijuana trafficking to the states, there is still the potential for situations in which caregivers carrying medical marijuana legally could be detained or arrested.

She said that her colleagues in the Assembly have been receptive to her calls for changes to the legislation, which would provide for, among other things, protections for pharmacy employees who may transport marijuana, as well as the ability to transfer the substance by bonded courier.

“My colleagues understand that I am from a very different part of the state,” she said.

Mrs. Russell said that if accommodations for the north country were included in another version of the bill, she would consider voting for it.

“We’re very close to supporting a system I support,” Mrs. Russell said.

Mr. Blankenbush still has reservations about the lack of marijuana regulation by the federal Food and Drug Administration and said he believes the current version of the law is too loose and invites misuse and abuse, according to his spokesman, Brian Peck.

The Senate version of the bill, which is slightly different from the Assembly version, passed the Senate Health Committee last week but has met with opposition in the Senate’s Finance Committee.

The committee’s chairman, state Sen. John A. DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, has said that he is opposed to the Compassionate Care Act but that he would consider a bill proposed by fellow Republican Sen. Philip M. Boyle, R-Long Island, that would allow the use of medical marijuana via a vaporizer or in oil or edible form.

Sen. Boyle’s proposal would prohibit the smoking of marijuana.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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