Here comes legalized marijuana.
At least, it appears to be coming for medicinal purposes. And not everyone is happy about it.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State address on Jan. 8, spoke of the need to make New York a healthier state, and how marijuana-in its own, controversial way-is instrumental in doing just that, by managing pain, cancer treatment and serious illnesses.
"Twenty states have already started to use it," Cuomo said. "We'll establish a program allowing up to 20 hospitals to prescribe medical marijuana, and we will monitor the program to evaluate the effectiveness and the feasibility of a medical marijuana system."
The governor, though not providing any specifics on this system or which hospitals will be designated as providers, has spurred a heated debate over the proposal, which he plans to enact through administrative powers rather than through the legislature.
"This is a situation where politics trumps both science and reality," said Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-C-I Chautauqua County. "The active ingredients in marijuana are available in New York state and across the nation and have been available for decades in a prescription pill form called Marinol."
"This is a situation where politics trumps both science and reality. The active ingredients in marijuana are available in New York state and across the nation and have been available for decades in a prescription pill form called Marinol."
Assemblyman Andy Goodell
Marinol, a synthetic version of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was indeed approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1985. For years, it has been prescribed by doctors as a way to treat appetite loss and chemotherapy effects like nausea and vomiting.
"The difference is that the prescription form is a controlled, precise dose," Goodell said. "It doesn't have harmful effects on people's lungs, it doesn't create second-hand smoke and it doesn't have the recreational (component) that's associated with smoking marijuana."
The Chautauqua Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Council, or CASAC, seems to agree.
"Medical marijuana already exists in the form of Marinol," reads the organization's marijuana policy statement. "Smoked marijuana does not meet the standards of modern medicine. Politically prescribing medicine rather than scientifically prescribing it through the Food and Drug Administration is dangerous."
Marinol, of course, does have its share of criticism, including a recent report by the Institute of Medicine that described the pill's slow-acting effects - due to its oral consumption and slow absorption into the bloodstream - as ultimately ineffective and increasing the risk of intoxication. Greater side effects were also attributed to the synthetic pill as opposed to the natural herb.
Goodell remains defiant, however, berating the Democratic majority in the state Assembly - whom he described as "ultra-liberal New York City Democrats" - for proposing an even more expansive medical marijuana bill that he believes will grant caregivers unlimited access to marijuana and make illegal any discrimination of users by landlords, employers and schools.
"The (Democrats') approach is clearly nothing more than a thinly disguised effort to open the flood gates of the illegal sale and distribution of marijuana under the guise of promoting its use for medical purposes," Goodell said.
Unfortunately for the assemblyman, the majority of New Yorkers disagree.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that 70 percent of state voters are in favor of increased medical marijuana use. This, coupled with equally lopsided polls nationwide, indicates an overwhelming desire for the drug's use medicinally.
As Democrat Assembly members call the governor's proposal a step forward, many Republicans are being forced to choose - in Goodell's words - the "lesser of two evils" between the governor's plan and the Assembly's legislation.
"I don't favor both, but the governor's proposal asks for very specific controls through research hospitals where patients can be monitored," Goodell said. "It's much more appropriate."