HIGH HOPES FOR POT
This was a meeting in the private office of the Manhattan district
attorney, involving a proposal to amend the New York State marijuana
So of course someone had to ask the question. That someone, yesterday,
turned out to be me.
"Uh, Mr. Morgenthau, in your long life, what kind of, ah, personal
experience have you had with marijuana? Have you ever smoked it yourself?"
The soon-to-be-85-year-old district attorney looked up sternly from
his chair, then cracked half a smile. "I missed that generation," he
"Weren't you around before they made pot illegal?" That happened, if
memory serves, in 1937, just as the future U.S. attorney and district
attorney was packing his bags for freshman year at Amherst.
"You said that," Morgenthau shot back at my calendar-counting. "I
OK, then, and Bill Clinton didn't inhale!
So here we have one of the little rituals of modern public life. You
hold important office? You'd better have an answer to the pot question.
Robert Morgenthau had called this meeting to announce that he was
throwing his considerable political weight behind a bill to make
marijuana legal for medical uses in New York State. Cancer patients,
glaucoma sufferers and people with other dreaded diseases, he said,
should not have to break the law to get the relief they so desperately
This could soon change, thanks to a bill from Manhattan Assemb.
Richard Gottfried. It would make the pain-killing properties of
marijuana available with a doctor's prescription, the same way sick
people can now get codeine, morphine and a whole medicine chest of
Montel Williams, the daytime TV host who was diagnosed with multiple
sclerosis in 1999, sat beside Morgenthau yesterday. He spoke about the
excruciating pain he suffers in the lower half of his body and the
blessed relief he's gotten from medical marijuana.
"I've tried the other drugs that are available to help me with the
pain I have," the talk-show host said. "Nothing works as well."
"There is absolutely no reason for not using marijuana for medical
purposes," Morgenthau said. "It's another weapon in the arsenal."
It is hard even to paraphrase the arguments against this. Only a
dim-witted ideologue like federal drug czar John Walters will utter
such drivel out loud. Something about "sending a bad message"
marijuana being a "gateway drug."
Get outta here!
How could any civilized person tell a cancer patient on chemotherapy,
"No, we won't ease your pain!" I dare anyone to look into Montel
Williams' eyes and say, "Suck it up, pal!"
In fact, the odds are suddenly looking up for medical marijuana, after
half a dozen failed attempts in Albany. Co-sponsors of Gottfried's
bill include such conservative stalwarts as Thomas Kirwan, a
hard-nosed former lieutenant in the State Police. Even State Senate
Majority Leader Joe Bruno, a cancer survivor himself, has given his
support to the companion bill.
"This is an issue that doesn't know any party," said Vince Marrone,
director of New Yorkers for Compassionate Care, an advocacy group of
patients, relatives and medical providers. "It just got a lot of
traction really fast."
Even Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, a staunch opponent of
some broader drug-reform plans, told me he's all for medical
marijuana. "This is more than appropriate," he said, adding, "I'm no
recent convert." As counsel to Gov. Hugh Carey in 1980, Brown noted,
he'd backed an earlier effort to make marijuana available for medical
(Brown answered with a sharp, "No," when I asked about his own
personal experience with the weed. "None.")
At the same time the medical-marijuana bill seems to be sailing
forward, drug-reform advocates are fighting for every inch as they
take broader aim at the state's tough Rockefeller-era drug laws. Just
about everyone agrees the laws are absurdly harsh. But no one can
craft a reform plan that pleases a working majority.
"Medical marijuana reminds people how inhumane our drug laws can be,"
said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
"Morgenthau can be a tremendously important ally on both fronts," said
Randy Credico of the William Moses Kunstler Fund, who has spent seven
years organizing relatives of Rockefeller inmates. The district
attorney promised more of the broader issue this week.
So where is George Pataki?
So far, the governor has said he is for Rockefeller reform, but he's
been lukewarm to anything but the narrowest proposals. And on medical
marijuana, he's expressed vague reservations without ever taking a
I was hoping to clear that up yesterday. But his criminal-justice
coordinator, Chauncey Parker, was apparently too busy to return calls.