Katz apologizes in op-ed for marijuana ticket

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In an op-ed set to appear tomorrow in the Journal News, Assemblyman Steve Katz explains his support for medicinal marijuana and apologizes for his marijuana possession charge in March.

Katz, R-Yorktown, Westchester County, voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana on Monday — after voting against it last year. He also voted last month in favor of the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana — the only Assembly GOP member to do so.

stevekatzAs for his own marijuana possession charge, Katz writes: “I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the incident in March. I apologize to any family, friend, supporter, or constituent whom I have made uncomfortable or disappointed. I have given my heart and soul to represent my district with unwavering honesty, integrity, and effectiveness, and I promise to continue to do so.”

Katz was ticketed for speeding and marijuana possession on March 14 on the state Thruway as he headed to the Capitol. He has declined to publicly discuss the circumstances of the ticket.

In April, his attorney agreed to an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” which means the charge will be dismissed if Katz completes community service by the end of June and remains out of legal trouble.

He gave a speech on the Assembly floor Monday in support of the medical marijuana bill, saying he regretted his previous vote and as a veterinarian and son of a ailing mother, he understands that the bill would be helpful to New Yorkers. The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

“We cannot ignore the reality that cannabis has real medicinal properties, and to be perfectly clear, this bill will not legalize the type of behavior one would imagine in a Cheech and Chong or Harold and Kumar movie,” Katz wrote. “Rather, this bill takes a responsible step in helping those who are in need.”

Here’s the op-ed piece:

By Steve Katz
As one of only two Assembly members with a professional background in health care, I feel compelled to discuss my recent affirmative vote for A.6357, legislation allowing medicinal use of marijuana in New York.

In a representative republic, such as ours, my voice and votes have been consistent with the values of my district. Voting on this bill last year was one of the most difficult decisions I have experienced as a legislator. I remember debating the pros and cons of this bill with my wife and my family, but ultimately, as a freshman legislator, I chose to vote the way I thought I was supposed to vote.

The weeks following the vote troubled me more than any other as an Assemblyman. I spoke to my constituents, family, and friends about my vote.

In my district, I heard some heartbreaking stories from friends who have had loved ones forced to contend with unimaginable pain. From experts, I learned of many ways that cannabinoid treatments can help assuage many ailments that current medicine doesn1t effectively treat. After hearing their concerns and support for this piece of legislation, I decided that this year, when the bill came up for a vote, I would support it.

On a personal note, my mother suffers from a severe degenerative spinal condition. Four separate surgeries and two metal rods currently run through the length of her spine. Over the course of this past year, her condition has continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate. Various painkillers, all taken in massive doses, and all of which she is now dependent on, continue to fail to mitigate my mother1s relentless pain. It is the most difficult thing for a son to watch, and it is devastating to know that so many, like my mother, suffer every day under similar circumstances. There is no good reason why we should continue to prevent a viable medication from being used in our state, and that is why I supported this bill.

Medicinal properties

We cannot ignore the reality that cannabis has real medicinal properties, and to be perfectly clear, this bill will not legalize the type of behavior one would imagine in a Cheech and Chong or Harold and Kumar movie. Rather, this bill takes a responsible step in helping those who are in need.

Study after study clearly shows that cannabinoid botanical medicine aids the treatment of intractable visceral pain from cancers, unstoppable neuropathic pain from spinal disorders and advanced-stage neuropathy, asthma, glaucoma, spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis, weight loss in various “wasting syndromes,” and emesis in chemotherapy patients. As a health-care provider and state legislator, I believe we have an obligation to employ every weapon in the pharmaceutical armory available to help those with indomitable pain.

Moreover, I believe that the misrepresentation of the medicinal value in cannabinoids as they pertain to health protection or treatment is a great injustice to those currently suffering from these ailments. Even if a condition is incurable, we owe it to those afflicted to use every means available to alleviate pain. After working across the aisle on this issue and with experts from around the world, I believe that we have created a model that other states will be proud to follow.

Under this new legislation, the Department of Health will help medical professionals in our state to administer this treatment method responsibly.
Our state will have a strict licensing protocol for all cultivators, distributors, and medical professionals. The state’s ISTOP program will monitor all certifications to prevent abuse, and this new policy will bring a new revenue stream to our cash starved state.

To my more conservative constituents who may find fault with my decision to vote this way, I want to say that I understand. Though marijuana is not a cure for any illness, its pain palliative properties can prolong and enhance the quality of life for many patients enduring horrible diseases. If health providers believe that medicinal marijuana is the appropriate medication, our government has no business to deny an individual the right combat pain in the most effective way they deem fit.

I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the incident in March. I apologize to any family, friend, supporter, or constituent whom I have made uncomfortable or disappointed. I have given my heart and soul to represent my district with unwavering honesty, integrity, and effectiveness, and I promise to continue to do so.

In closing, my friends, I want to reassure you that we have written a good bill. We will be on the right side of history, and we will improve the lives of those who are suffering.

The writer, a veterinarian, is a Republican assemblyman from Yorktown.

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