Gov. Cuomo signs Medical Marijuana Bill

New York is also moving closer to legalizing recreational marijuana

by Regina Sandoval

Staff Mary Jane

In an effort to minimize the growing death toll of opioid overdose, the state of New York has instituted legislation (S8987A/A 11011-B). The new bill, signed by Governor Cuomo, adds acute pain management to the list of conditions medicinal marijuana may be legally used to treat.

Using cannabis to ease pain is a method aimed at reducing opioid prescriptions that too often lead to crippling addictions, and sometimes death. Opioids are derived from the Papaver Somniferum plant, or “poppy”; which is imported from Turkey, Australia, India, France, and Spain. These countries export poppy for legal, medicinal production, such as the manufacture of codeine, oxycodone, and morphine. Also called the joy plant, poppy is used to relieve severe pain, irritable bowels, and insomnia. If abused, however, opioids can damage the brain’s ability to create vital hormones.

Opioids enter through the bloodstream and create artificial endorphins and dopamine, which are the chemicals responsible for happiness, pleasure, reward, and satisfaction. Once the body adjusts to a heavy intake of opium, the pituitary gland loses its natural ability to produce these neurotransmitters, and instead relies solely on higher doses of opioids to achieve positive feelings. This is why people who take a prescribed drug can quickly become addicted to the high it provides, as they are no longer capable of producing those emotions on their own. Once users develop a dependency on poppy, they resort to heroine from the street because it is cheaper and easy to find. Afghanistan has been the lead producer of opium for illicit use since 1992, and generates about $4 billion in export-value by taking advantage of the vulnerable.

Legal or illegal, opium is an addictive substance that only provides short term benefits. Medicinal marijuana relieves pain, calms nausea during chemotherapy, improves appetite in HIV/AIDS, reduces tics in Tourette’s syndrome, and prevents seizures in epilepsy. The medicinal uses of THC are vital to those who suffer from these illnesses, and its side effects are not harmful like those of opium. Governor Cuomo’s intent with this bill is to promote healthier alternatives for pain management. Lieutenant Governor Hochul supports expanding the approved list of medicinal drugs, because she states it “provides New Yorkers with new options, and prevents the danger that comes from opioid addiction.” This draft, rooted in intentions of providing relief and preventing drug abuse, is also a small step in the direction of the full legalization of marijuana in the state of New York.

If marijuana were to be legalized, New York could add approximately 248 to 678 million dollars to its coffers. This estimate has a large range because it is unknown at what price marijuana would be sold and what taxes would be placed on its retailing. Although Cuomo has called marijuana a “gateway drug” when used recreationally, he is shifting his position with this bill. Vermont and Massachusetts, New York’s northern neighbors, have recently legalized marijuana, placing pressure on other Northern states to follow. Similarly, Cuomo has recently faced threats from opponents like Cynthia Nixon, who strongly favor legalization.As of August 2018, Cuomo has been working with an appointed team to draft legislation on the recreational usage of weed. Recent studies conducted by the Department of Health suggest that marijuana’s positive impacts outweigh its negative effects. An important factor in assembling this group was realizing that marijuana laws are racist.

In 2018 alone, 93% of low-level marijuana arrests have involved African Americans. The decriminalization of marijuana is essential to the progression of black communities and to the integration of social culture. Legalization will relieve physical pain from illness/addiction, as well as emotional distress from an unjust criminal justice system.

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