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Shelter Island reps split as state OK’s medical marijuana

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. has voted in favor of a medical marijuana bill.

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. has voted in favor of a medical marijuana bill.

New York State is on track to become the 23rd state in the country to allow the sale of medical marijuana.

State Senators passed a measure June 20, the Assembly did the same the night before and Governor Andrew Cuomo is poised to sign the bill.

Shelter Island representatives Ken LaValle and Fred Thiele Jr. split on the measure, with Mr. Lavalle (R-Port Jefferson) opposing the bill and Mr. Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) voting in favor.

The 24-page Compassionate Care Act, as the bill was called, passed by votes of 49-10 in the Legislature’s upper house and 117-13 in the lower house.

Passage comes about six months after Mr. Cuomo said in his State of the State address that he hoped to launch a pilot medical marijuana program at state-run hospitals.

Mr. LaValle said on the floor of the state Senate that he saw the bill as “a beginning” to better legislation, though he considered its content as a whole “very alarming” — too alarming for him to support.

“There’s too much in here that troubles me about [this bill’s] unintended effects,” he said. Mr. LaValle added he was concerned the bill would lead to making marijuana a legal recreational drug across New York State.

Mr. Thiele said the this was the first time he had voted for a medical marijuana bill. “With compromises added to the bill I saw there were enough safeguards in it,” Mr. Thiele said, adding that it will help those suffering from serious diseases.

The legislation will establish a registry process and require patient ID cards for those seeking to use marijuana, which will be available only in edible and vaporized form. The state’s department of health now has 18 months to develop guidelines regulating dosage amounts — a point that opponents said illustrated a lack of current knowledge on the topic.

According to the legislation, the governor can also suspend or terminate the medical marijuana program at any point based on recommendations from the health commissioner or superintendent.

In the state Senate, the measure was sponsored by Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), who spoke on the floor before the vote about her parents, both of whom suffered from lung cancer.

“During that period of time,” she said, “I realized for my mother and father, as well as my grandfather, that they had one of two choices: They could suffer or continue to be prescribed seriously addictive narcotics. At that point, it didn’t matter.”

Several state senators on Friday pointed to concessions in the bill that ultimately led to its approval. Mr. Cuomo did the same in a statement.

“This legislation strikes the right balance,” he said. “Medical marijuana has the capacity to do a lot of good for a lot of people who are in pain and suffering and are in desperate need of a treatment that will provide some relief. At the same time, medical marijuana is a difficult issue because there are risks to public health and safety that have to be averted.”

A 7 percent excise tax will apply to medical marijuana. Tax revenues will be divided among the counties where the product is manufactured and dispensed, the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and the Division of Criminal Justice. The state will identify five manufacturers, each of which will be permitted to operate up to four dispensaries.

No specific locations have been determined.

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