State Must Legalize Medical Marijuana
by John C. Liu
Sep 10, 2013 | 1077 views | 0 0 comments | 93 93 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Earlier this month, we proposed to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana for personal use by adults in New York City, and use the $400 million in annual revenues to cut CUNY tuition in half for city residents.

Some might not agree with that proposal. Too much too soon, they might say. On the benefits of legalizing medical marijuana, however, almost all New Yorkers agree – 80 percent, according to a recent survey. Let’s come together and get it done.

Recently, the New York area was stunned when the evening news showed a desperate father pleading with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to allow medical marijuana, which is legal in New Jersey for adults, to be prescribed to minors. The father believed the drug could help his daughter, who suffers from severe seizures.

The sad truth is that many people are facing a similar crisis right here in New York City. Our office estimates that more than 100,000 New Yorkers with serious medical conditions would benefit if medical marijuana were legal.

That group includes roughly 88,000 suffering from chronic or severe pain, 15,000 with muscle spasms or multiple sclerosis, and 11,000 with severe nausea. Other qualifying conditions would include cancer, seizures, wasting syndrome, HIV/AIDS, and glaucoma.

At a press conference, we called on the State Legislature to pass a measure legalizing medical marijuana. We were joined by two physicians who explained that the benefits of medical marijuana far outweigh concerns that people may have. Most of those concerns, they said, are unfounded.

One physician noted that Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and the chief medical correspondent for CNN, has come out strongly in support of medical marijuana despite his former strong opposition.

“I apologize,” Gupta wrote on a CNN website, “because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.”

While medical experts make a strong case for legalization, the most compelling moments of that press conference came when four people shared their personal stories.

A man suffering from AIDS said his doctors believe that medical marijuana would greatly improve his quality of life.

Two parents, similar to the father in New Jersey, said their young children suffer from severe, life-threatening seizures. They said the medications now available in New York have provided little relief with devastating side effects. They pleaded with the State Legislature to quickly pass a law that would establish a medical marijuana program. Twenty states and Washington, D.C. have already taken this important step.

Finally, a woman explained that her father had recently died from colon cancer. He used medical marijuana, which greatly improved his quality of life, even though, she said, “it technically made him a criminal.”

The Legislature needs to legalize medical marijuana so our doctors can recommend this medicine to those who can benefit. And New York City should leverage our tremendous medical, bioscience, and academic resources to lead the way in medical marijuana research in order to make a meaningful impact on suffering for years to come.

John C. Liu is the New York City Comptroller.

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