Disappointment in medical marijuana law 

Holly Anderson says that while she's glad that a medical marijuana bill has been approved by the State Legislature, she's disappointed in the version of the bill that passed.

Anderson, who is executive director of the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, says that Governor Andrew Cuomo didn't voice his objections to an earlier version of the bill until it was too late to address them.

"My ire is with the governor," she says.

And she's not the only advocate of medical marijuana who says that the bill got watered down in ways that will make cannabis more expensive for patients. And for some, it will be less effective, Anderson says.

Anderson's biggest objection to the new law is the fact that it doesn't allow smoking as one of the ways that the plant can be used. Smoking is the most efficient way for the body to absorb all of the plant's compounds, she says. Some of those compounds could be lost by processing the plant into a commercial form, she says.

Other criticisms: that the law creates too many layers of bureaucracy, that insurers won't cover the purchase of the drug, and that purchases must be made in cash.

Anderson, a stage 3 breast cancer survivor, says that getting the law passed was partly a battle about perception. She says she's careful in how she speaks about the plant to intentionally contrast medicine from recreational drugs.

Her organization never refers to the plant as marijuana or pot, she says, because it gives the wrong impression of how it will be used. They always call it cannabis, she says.

"This is not about people looking to get high," Anderson says. "They're trying to get well."

And she says that the public needs to be reminded that plants play a vital role in the medical arsenal. Pacific yew bark is used to create the cancer-fighting-drug Taxol, Digitalis is used to treat certain heart conditions, and opiates are used for pain.

But Democratic Assembly member Joe Morelle says that the new law strikes the appropriate balance. He says that Cuomo was concerned about passing a law that encourages smoking.

He says that lawmakers were also in the awkward position of trying to help patients who could benefit from the drug while the state is also battling a heroin epidemic.

"We've got to be pretty mindful here of what we're doing," Morelle says.

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