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North country politicians oppose medical marijuana bill

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North country state representatives are opposed to a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in New York.

The bill is proposed in the Assembly by Committee on Health Chairman Richard N. Gottfried, D-Manhattan, and in the Senate by State Sen. Diane J. Savino, D-Staten Island/Brooklyn. It would set up a system by which the state Health Department would license and regulate organizations that could dispense medical marijuana to certified patients.

To a great extent, the objections of north country representatives focused on the conflict with the federal government that the measure would create.

Assemblywoman Addie Russell, D-Theresa, said she would not support the legalization of medical marijuana at the state level because the federal government has not yet made the substance legal.

“It’s not the law of the land,” Mrs. Russell said. “It would set up a conflict between the federal and state government and put those that may need it in a difficult position.”

Mrs. Russell also said that the availability of medical marijuana often serves as a gateway for more illegal drug use and that she has not seen a proposal that effectively restricts marijuana to only medical purposes.

Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, has voiced concerns about medical marijuana in three areas, according to his chief of staff, Brian Peck.

Unlike other prescription drugs, marijuana has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and variations in manufacturing, quality and possible contamination with other substances would be difficult to detect, Mr. Blankenbush said via email.

Mr. Blankenbush also said he was concerned about the effect that legalizing medical marijuana would have on law enforcement.

During the last vote in 2012, the New York State Police Conference opposed the bill, Mr. Blankenbush said.

And discrepancies between state and federal regulations also concern Mr. Blankenbush.

“Marijuana is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law. There needs to be more discussion between law enforcement, the FDA and changes with Federal Law before we put patients, doctors, and business owners into a bad position,” Mr. Blankenbush said in the email.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, was not available for comment Monday but her spokeswoman, Sarah Compo, said Mrs. Ritchie does not support relaxing drug laws.

The proposed system in New York state would impose an excise tax on manufacturing and dispensing medical marijuana. Fifty percent of the revenue would be shared with the municipality where the marijuana was either manufactured or dispensed and fifty percent would go to the state.

Five percent of the state’s share would go toward finding alcohol and substance abuse treatment, according to the bill.

Public hearings about the proposed legislation will be held in Buffalo on Dec. 5 and Mineola on Dec. 18.

Oral testimony is by invitation only.

Those interested in more information about the public hearing or to submit an application to testify, visit http://wdt.me/WhSMnn.

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