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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Times Union of Albany on the reluctance of New York lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana.

Feb. 20

State politicians who have been hesitant to legalize medical marijuana for fear of damaging their law-and-order image got a reality check this week in a poll that found overwhelming support for the idea.

That really should be the last hurdle for a reform whose time came long ago.

The medical community, which should be the authority on medical issues, has for years seen marijuana as the right treatment for certain patients, including some with cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, chronic illnesses such as HIV, and Crohn’s disease. Depending on the ailment, marijuana can help people cope with nausea, pain, spasms or loss of appetite. It works in some cases better than legal pharmaceutical alternatives.

Yet somehow politicians have presumed to act as if they know better than doctors and patients, denying legal medical use of the drug in favor of less effective and sometimes more harmful medication. It’s not hard to see why: marijuana has long had a negative image in the public consciousness. No doubt lobbying and contributions from a deep-pocketed pharmaceutical industry have helped keep it so in the political consciousness, too.

But the public has gotten way ahead of lawmakers on this one. A Quinnipiac University poll found New Yorkers favor legalization of medical marijuana by an eye-popping 88-to-9 percent margin, even stronger than the 82-15 results that Siena Research Institute found last year.

So what are politicians afraid of? And whose interests are they representing?

Regardless of what national ambition any New York politicians may have, this is the state they were elected to govern. New Yorkers are the people they must represent.

This latest revelation should tell Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature that New Yorkers are ready for them - this session - to go beyond the governor’s flawed plan to allow 10 hospitals around the state to dispense medical marijuana. It’s too limited, the process too cumbersome, the treatment potential too timid.

The Legislature should pass a law, as 20 other states have, allowing medical marijuana to be prescribed by physicians just as they’re trusted to do with any other legitimate drug.

Just to be clear, this is not an endorsement of legalizing recreational marijuana use. While a majority of New Yorkers favor that - support ran 57-39 in the Quinnipiac poll - the more prudent course for New York is to closely follow what you might call a pair of live experiments under way in Colorado and Washington. Those states essentially give us a pair of case studies to observe what impact legalization has on such things as motor vehicle accidents, crime and access to pot by minors. They may also help inform the debate on whether marijuana serves as a “gateway drug.”

But with medical pot, any more delay is not only baffling, but inhumane. Nearly nine out of 10 New Yorkers agree: It’s time, New York.

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