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NY close to legalizing some medical marijuana

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By JOSEFA VELASQUEZ | AP

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York is inching toward legalizing some form of medical marijuana as support grows in the state Legislature and is likely to become one of a handful of issues taken up when lawmakers return later this month.

But it remains unclear where the drug would come from for either Gov. Andrew Cuomo's limited research program or broader, legalized use under a proposed medical marijuana bill.

Marijuana for clinical trials comes from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which has a contract with the University of Mississippi to grow marijuana for studies, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration said.

"Obtaining marijuana for research along these lines is notoriously difficult, but not impossible," said Gabriel Sayegh, the New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for a public health approach to drug abuse rather than relying on the criminal justice system.

A spokesman for Cuomo referred questions to the state's health department, which would oversee New York's medical marijuana program. A spokesman for the agency said this week that a "senior-level team" within the department was developing the framework for the research program, but calls seeking elaboration weren't returned.

It is unclear how particular strains of the drug could be brought into the state without violating federal law, which prohibits transporting marijuana across state lines. Calls made to the sponsors of the medical marijuana bill, Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, weren't returned.

In neighboring New Jersey, Tom Prendergast, a manager at one of that state's three dispensaries, said in an interview that the initial seeds and plants came from out of the state, but would not elaborate for legal reasons.

Advocates for the legalized medical marijuana say that the drug can ease nausea, appetite loss and pain associated with such illnesses as cancer, AIDS or epilepsy. Certain strains that are low in THC have also shown seizure-fighting properties, and in October, the FDA approved testing of a British pharmaceutical firm's marijuana-derived drug that contains a property that may combat seizures.

Savino, member of a group of breakaway Democrats that control the Senate with the Republicans, has said she has more than enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate. The Democratic-led Assembly has passed the bill.

"Should the Senate decide to take up the bill, we would be delighted to pass it once again," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in a statement Tuesday that came after he told reporters that the bill didn't seem to have "a future in this session."

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos can block bills from a floor vote by using the veto power that he and the leader of the breakaway Democrats hold under their power-sharing agreement.

A spokesman for Skelos said the senator was taking a "cautious approach."

"Sen. Skelos has indicated that he is seeking additional information and will continue to study this issue," Skelos' spokesman said.

A Siena poll released in March found that 47 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing marijuana while 31 percent support Cuomo's plan to allow medical marijuana research in 20 hospitals.

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