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EDITORIAL: Gov. Andrew Cuomo sees an upside in medical marijuana

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Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his annual State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Twenty states allow the medical use of marijuana. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will make New York the next one.

The reaction of local legislators and law enforcement officials has been cautious, which is understandable. Their world is one in which laws are black and white. Something is either legal or illegal. And after decades of battling drug use, any type of legalization of marijuana is going to take some getting used to.

The country has come a long way from the 1936 film “Reefer Madness,” a cautionary tale that features a fictionalized and highly exaggerated take on young people who use marijuana. The film would now be considered good comedy in many circles.

Here is one synopsis: “A trio of drug dealers lead innocent teenagers to become addicted to ‘reefer’ cigarettes by holding wild parties with jazz music.”

Strangely enough, when the movie was made, marijuana use was still legal for medicinal purposes. That changed in 1937, and most of us grew up being told marijuana was a “gateway” drug that would lead us to drug addiction and a life of crime.

The current baby boomer generation probably has more experience with smoking marijuana than any previous one, and that may be a big reason why medical marijuana use is gaining traction all around the country. The boomers simply don’t see it as that big a deal.

Gov. Cuomo proposes New York stick its toe into the medical marijuana waters by allowing 20 hospitals statewide to prescribe marijuana to patients with cancer and other severe ailments.

That worries our local officials who say it could lead to abuse of the drug. We repeat our earlier stances that we should worry more about increased heroin use and the possibility of methamphetamine taking hold in our communities than marijuana. We suspect any abuse of medical marijuana will be small.

Medically, there is plenty of evidence marijuana use can curb nausea in chemotherapy patients, stimulate their appetite and relieve pain. It also takes a far lighter toll on the liver and kidneys than other drugs currently used. It doesn’t even need to be smoked to be effective. Patients have taken it through a vaporizer or mixed it with food. Anyone for brownies?

It isn’t just cancer, either. Proponents say it can be used in treating multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, tremors, spasms and AIDS.

However, the Food and Drug Administration still opposes medical marijuana because it is still classified as a drug with a high potential for abuse, but several professional medical organizations have questioned that classification and believe it may need to be reduced.

What seems to be the sticking point is this may be the first step toward legalized marijuana use in New York.

Colorado and Washington have already made it legal, even though federal statutes still consider it illegal.

We all can agree having a culture of lethargic stoners is not in anyone’s interest, but isn’t that what “Reefer Madness” was selling in 1936?

We agree that everyone should be cautious moving forward. Using the argument that marijuana is no less harmful than alcohol is not one we find convincing, considering the litany of societal problems from alcohol abuse.

But anyone who has watched a loved one go through the rigors of chemotherapy knows even the best of drugs can be ineffective, or have harsh side effects. If marijuana provides a safe alternative, then it should absolutely be explored.

We’ve taken a stand on this page before regarding underage drinking, and when doing our reporting for those stories, young people told us it was far easier for them to get marijuana than beer.

Keeping all drugs out of the hands of young people should be paramount for us as a community and a state going forward.

But attitudes are changing about marijuana use. The governor is on the right track in exploring how it can be used to curb the suffering of those who are sick.

We believe those benefits far outweigh the risks posed in “Reefer Madness.”

Maybe someday it will be as acceptable as jazz.

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Karen Stites.


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