Guest Op-Ed: Benefits of medical marijuana

Right now, somewhere in New York, a mother stands helpless, watching her daughter suffer from refractory epilepsy, as constant seizures continue to play out because her child’s prescribed medications fail to contain each episode.

Across the state, a 33-year-old cancer survivor continues to suffer from severe nausea as a result of chemotherapy treatment because none of her medications is able to alleviate it, in fact contributing to her stomach unrest.

These New Yorkers, and thousands more, are why I am sponsoring the Compassionate Care Act, which would finally enable safe and regulated treatment with medicinal marijuana.

Right now, there are 39 “yes” votes in the State Senate. We need 32 to pass. The support we have secured crosses ideological and geographical boundaries. Most recently, my colleague, Senator Joe Robach, a Republican, courageously stood up to co-sponsor this legislation because, in his words, “I think it is the right thing to do.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, this is about enabling doctors to make medical decisions that are in the best interest of their patients.

Recently, after close consultation with health care professionals, advocates and other legislators, I made several amendments to my bill in an effort to secure additional support.

The changes narrow the scope of those who would be eligible for treatment based on specific medical conditions. For instance, after consulting with ophthalmologists, we decided to exclude glaucoma from treatment because other drugs produce better results. Other illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are now eligible. Patients under the age of 21 would not be able to smoke medical marijuana but would be allowed to use it in another form.

Additionally, any registered organization allowed by the Department of Health to distribute medical marijuana would not be allowed to hire anyone who has been convicted of a felony related to the possession of drugs, narcotics or any other controlled substances.

The measure would create an advisory committee to advise the health commissioner on making specific regulations on any matters related to the implementation of this law. That advisory committee would have the ability to ensure that other illnesses could later be added or removed for eligibility for treatment as science develops.

Lastly, the bill ensures that ample tax revenue will be collected that will benefit all of New York. Local governments would recoup the majority of these proceeds while additional monies would help fund alcohol and substance-abuse programs.

I believe that these amendments have made the Compassionate Care Act an even stronger, more sensible bill, rooted in clear science and common sense. Now it is time to get this done.

Democrat Diane Savino represents South Brooklyn and parts of Staten Island in the State Senate.

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