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Savino: 40 senators now back medical pot bill

 

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The Senate sponsor of the measure to legalize medical marijuana said tonight she has never been more optimistic than now that her bill will get passed in the coming six weeks before the 2014 session ends.

The confidence by Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat, came after Sen. John Bonacic, a veteran senator from the Mid-Hudson Valley, today became the fifth Senate Republican to publicly support her measure. [The Assembly has long passed bills to legalize medical marijuana.]

Savino said she now counts 40 senators officially backing her bill -- more than enough to pass it in the 63-member Senate.

"We have a solid 40 yes votes. He's a welcome addition,'' Savino said of Bonacic.

She said amendments to her bill have addressed a number of concerns about the smoking of marijuana; some lawmakers want the drug to be prescribed in only a liquid form, which is now only available in Colorado and California and is used mostly in those states as treatments for children suffering from rare seizure conditions. Recent amendments she made include banning smoking of the drug for any eligible patient under the age of 21 and permitting doctors to still have the ability to make the drug available in a non-smoking form for those over age 21.

"But for some patients, smoking is the fastest, most effective way to achieve relief,'' Savino said in an interview with The Buffalo News Friday evening.

Here is the release from earlier this afternoon by the Drug Police Alliance, announcing Bonacic's support. He joins four other Senate Republicans, including WNYers George Maziarz and Mark Grisanti, in backing Savino's bill.

New York: Today in a meeting with patients, caregivers and providers, Senator John Bonacic (R-Middletown) announced his support for the comprehensive medical marijuana bill known as the Compassionate Care Act ( S.4406-B (Savino) / A.3567-A (Gottfried)). With this announcement, Bonacic becomes the fifth Republican state senator to publicly endorse the bill, which would allow eligible patients with serious and debilitating conditions to access medical marijuana under the supervision of their healthcare provider.

Patients, healthcare providers and advocates with the statewide Compassionate Care NY coalition praised Bonacic and called on more Republican leaders to take their cues from the growing list of Republican supporters. Bonacic’s announcement happened almost simultaneously with another development -- today, Republican Senator Phil Boyle introduced his own medical marijuana bill. Patients, families and advocates called the Boyle proposal inadequate for thousands of patients in New York – for instance, the measure excludes serious conditions such as PTSD and Parkinson’s as a qualifying conditions, while those patients who need to administer medical marijuana via inhalation would be required to purchase expensive vaporizing equipment that use only highly-concentrated oils.

While coalition members raised concerns about the limitations of Boyle’s proposal, they applauded his acknowledgment that medical cannabis needs to be made available to those with serious and debilitating conditions, noting that this is another sign that leaders from both sides of the aisle understand that seriously ill patients need and deserve the relief that medical marijuana can bring.

“As a person living with MS, I was thrilled when Senator Bonacic told me today in our meeting that he supported the Compassionate Care Act,” said Jessica Koock a mother of two sons from New Paltz. “I know that once this bill passes thousands of New Yorkers with serious illnesses will benefit. Why prolong their suffering? Please join with Senator Bonacic and leaders from all parties to pass this bill now.”

“I was thrilled when Senator Bonacic told us he sided with patients and would now support the Compassionate Care Act,” said Cindy Tangney of Chester, who was also part of the group that met with Bonacic. “My daughter and granddaughter, Mable, moved to Colorado so that they could access medical cannabis for my granddaughter’s seizures. The growing bipartisan support makes me hopeful that we are one step closer to bring baby Mabel home.”

Bonacic’s announcement comes just days after Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy published an op-ed supporting the Compassionate Care Act and two weeks after Republican Senator Joseph Robach became a co-sponsor of the bill. Over the last few months, Republican support for the bill has continued to grow, with five Republican State Senators publicly supporting the Compassionate Care Act, including Senator George Maziarz (R – Newfane), Senator Mark Grisanti (R, IP – Buffalo), Senator Joe Robach (R, C, IP - Rochester) and Senator Tim O’Mara (R, C – Big Flats, Elmira). Last week, Sen. Robach took his support one step further by signing on as the first Republican a co-sponsor of Compassionate Care Act.

“I’m glad to see Senator Boyle recognizing the need for medical cannabis,” said Nancy Rivera for Troy, a four time cancer survivor. “But as a cancer survivor, I was dismayed to see Boyle’s bill isn’t as comprehensive as the Compassionate Care Act. I hope Senator Boyle will join with Senator Bonacic and others to support the comprehensive bill. I’d like to see him join Senator Robach as a co-sponsor of the Compassionate Care Act.”

As the debate about medical marijuana builds in Albany, physicians have weighed in by calling on the Senate to pass a bill that allows medical professionals to recommend the mode of ingestion, just as they would with any other medication. Sunil Aggarwal, MD, PhD and Co-chair of NY Physicians for Compassionate Care, said: “Gold standard clinical trials continue to show that inhaled marijuana in organic, whole plant botanical form is very therapeutic, and for some conditions such as HIV neuropathy, the treatment with the strongest evidence for efficacy. Ironically, restricting medical cannabis to only concentrated oil forms would restrict options to only increased potency forms, making it hard for some patients who would not tolerate them. The National Institute of Health just today announced a name change for their complementary and alternative medicine center, including the term Integrative Health. As such, we should keep all options for whole plant medicine available as integrative medicine calls for. As with all other medications, doctors, not politicians, should be deciding which form of the medicine is best suited for a particular patient. That’s why the senate should pass the Compassionate Care Act.”

The Senate Health Committee is slated to vote on the Compassionate Care Act next Tuesday. A recent Quinnipiac Poll found that 88% of New York voters support medical marijuana. Twenty-one states and the District Columbia have passed laws creating legal access to medical marijuana for patients with serious and debilitating conditions. Advocates, many of whom have already waited years for relief, have vowed to return to Albany every week until the bill is passed.

“Thank you, Senator Bonacic, for pushing the Compassionate Care Act forward,” said gabriel sayegh, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “New Yorkers have waited long enough for relief. Political leaders across the state and New York voters know that patients and their families deserve compassion. There is strong bipartisan support to help patients in need – now we need our leaders to pass a workable solution that will help patients across New York.”

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Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

tprecious@buffnews.com


Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri | jterreri@buffnews.com


Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski | jzremski@buffnews.com

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