By Jena Ardell
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The talk show host Montel Williams traveled to Albany to lobby legislators in May. Williams, who uses pot to combat the pain caused by multiple sclerosis, met with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Bruno, and others. In June, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau met with Williams, then announced his support for legalizing medical marijuana. A few weeks later, the New York City Council passed a resolution supporting Gottfried's bill. And in September, Williams returned to Albany to have a meeting about the issue with Governor Pataki.
For any state that does legalize medical marijuana, the crucial question is always: Where does the pot come from? The federal government grows marijuana on a farm in Mississippi, and supplies joints to seven patients across the country through a research program run by the University of Mississippi. But this farm does not supply pot to new patients in states where medical marijuana has been legalized. These patients must either grow their own weed, or else buy it on the black market.
One idea that has been floating around for years is to redistribute marijuana that has been confiscated by the police. In past years, in New York State, this pot has been handed over to the state health department. Workers placed it on a conveyor belt, which delivered it to an incinerator. (The process wasn't always seamless; in 1986, workers took 63 pounds of marijuana for themselves, lifting it off the conveyer belt.) Gottfried's bill suggests a few possible sources of medical marijuana, including the state's confiscated stash.
While some legislators will likely want to wait to make a decision about Gottfried's bill until the Supreme Court makes its decision, Gottfried is pushing for faster action. "I think the fact that the Supreme Court decision is pending creates one argument for passing a bill at this very moment, because state action helps send a message . . . to the Supreme Court," he says. That message, of course, would be that the public wants to permit sick people to smoke pot without having to worry about a phalanx of police officers bursting through their front door.