Island senator is behind push for medical marijuana, Savino's position tied to her experience with both parents' battles with terminal cancer

Diane J. Savino

Island senator is behind push for medical marijuana
Savino's position tied to her experience with both parents' battles with terminal cancer
Sunday, May 17, 2009

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- When state lawmakers vote on legalizing medical marijuana later this month, state Sen. Diane Savino expects to be front and center in favor.

After all, Ms. Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) is a bill co-sponsor.

But her support is less about the political and more about the personal: She believes her late parents -- both of whom "died young" of cancer -- would have benefited from it, saying it would have alleviated the great pain they were in.

"No question about it," said Ms. Savino. "They were in chronic pain. Morphine didn't work. You get to the point where nothing works. If marijuana is going to provide some sort of relief, then let them have it."

Ms. Savino's father, Alexander, was 53 when he died in 1990; her mother, Diane, 61, when she died in 1998.

But it looks like Ms. Savino has her work cut out for her when it comes to convincing her fellow Staten Island lawmakers to vote in favor. Only Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-North Shore) said he plans to do so, calling it a "matter of compassion." He said his late mother, Margaret, who died of cancer in March at the age of 79, could have benefited from its palliative powers.

The Senate bill -- there's a companion piece in the Assembly -- would give seriously ill patients the ability to purchase the drug through a registered dispensing facility with a physician's OK. Proponents say scientific research has shown the use of marijuana can lessen the pain that comes with debilitating illnesses. They also point out that users would have to register with the state Health Department and be permitted to have no more than 2 1/2 ounces at a time.

But Island opponents point out that the sale of marijuana is against federal law, and note the legislation does not address the illegality of selling it. Set to vote against it are: State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island); Assemblyman Lou Tobacco (R-South Shore); Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island) and Assemblywoman Janele Hyer-Spencer (D-Mid-Island/Brooklyn) -- even though she said her father Jerry, who died in 2007 of cancer at age 69, might have benefited from its "medicinal" never a good time to address wage discrimination," she said.