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Medical marijuana hearing draws impassioned arguments

Chris Caya/WBFO News

Advocates and opponents of legalizing medical marijuana turned out for a state Assembly hearing Thursday in Buffalo City Hall.Many testified about medical marijuana's ability to ease the pain and symptoms associated with debilitating diseases, such as cancer, and urged lawmakers to approve its use.

Mark Williams, the parent of a sick child, testified that medical cannabis has helped thousands of people avoid pain and suffering  and, in some cases, has saved their lives. 

"It is unconscionable that residents of New York are being denied access to this revolutionary treatment," Williams said.

"If New York State should decide not to make this medicine available, ourselves and many other families across the state will be forced to say goodbye to our families and friends, sell our homes, lose our jobs, our businesses and pensions in order to try and save our child's life."

About 100 people attended the hearing in Common Council chambers, including Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Executive Director Andrea Wanat.

Wanat said there are dangers associated with marijuana use, calling it "a powerful and addictive drug."

"Marijuana users can suffer a plethora of damage including birth defects, worsening of pain, lung damage, cancer, brain damage, strokes, immune system damage, mental illness, and many others. There can be a tremendous negative impact upon academic performance, occupational achievement, and quality of life for individuals and families," Wanat said.

Legislation that would tightly regulate and control medical marijuana passed the Assembly earlier this year with strong bipartisan support. Senate leaders failed to bring the bill to a vote before the end of the last legislative session.

Assemblyman Ray Walter of Amherst said it's a "tough issue."

"Drug abuse and drug addiction is a serious concern. I'm the father of two young boys and I want to make sure that they stay away from drugs and they're not using it for recreational purposes. We need to do everything we can to make sure that this bill is as strict and as controlled as it can possibly be and that only the people who need the medicine are going to get the medicine," Walter said.

Twenty other states and the District of Columbia have authorized similar legislation.