Editorial: It’s time New York State revisits marijuana laws

01/09/2014 7:00 AM |

New York State Capitol

In his State of the State address Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to make marijuana available in 20 New York hospitals for patients with cancer, glaucoma and other illnesses. An executive order creating an interim medical marijuana program could allow him to bypass the state Senate, which has been blocking medicinal marijuana legislation efforts.

This is welcome news for those seeking relief from pain and discomfort caused by illness. It’s also promising for those who consider this an important step toward modernizing state marijuana laws by taxing and regulating its sale and use, as with alcohol and tobacco. Our current system has done much more harm than good, most notably through the imprisonment and restrictive criminal records of countless non-violent offenders over the course of decades — not to mention the violent drug trades the laws have helped create.

Historic references to marijuana as treatment for various ailments go back thousands of years, and even today approximately 76 percent of doctors worldwide sign off on medical uses where it is legally available, according to survey findings recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Marijuana can be used to treat more ailments than prednisone, for example, yet isn’t nearly as harmful to the body. Something seems amiss when we live in a state where morphine is legal for medicinal use but marijuana isn’t. This contradiction can be explained by the fact that marijuana became a scapegoat drug beginning in the early 20th century — fueled by headline-grabbing politicians — without evidence to prove any real dangers or benefits. The argument that has evolved since holds that marijuana, though itself not especially dangerous, is a gateway drug that leads to other drug use. Prominent experts debunk this theory again and again, pointing out that marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug chosen by people who go on to use other drugs only because it’s the most readily available. In fact, most people consume alcohol before ever using marijuana.

Relaxing marijuana laws isn’t just something being promoted by those on the left. Fiscal conservatives point to the huge amount of money and resources being wasted on policing, prosecuting and imprisoning offenders. Many people readily recognize that marijuana use in and of itself does not infringe upon others’ health or safety, thus its use should be a personal choice and no business of the government’s. An exception would be the operation of a vehicle after having used marijuana, which is still illegal even in Colorado and Washington State, where recreational marijuana use has been decriminalized.

In the new year, New York State lawmakers, especially Senate Republicans, should rethink their knee-jerk stances against pot and pass a law that permit medical uses of marijuana. They should also reconsider the real benefits of proposed tax-and-regulate legislation versus the real costs — and imagined benefits — of the status quo.

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