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The approval by the State Senate Health Committee of the bill to legalize medical marijuana is a big step in overcoming opposition in the full Senate and making the drug available to a small number of desperate patients.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Diane J. Savino, one of the Democrats who rule the Senate with Republicans. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration. If approved by that panel, Savino says passage is assured because she has at least 40 votes in the 63-member chamber.

But that confidence ignores reality in Albany, where any legislation can become part of the end-of-session horse-trading that occurs every June, as News Albany bureau chief Tom Precious wrote.

Still, the number of supporters is growing. The measure passed the Health Committee by a 9-8 vote. The sole Republican vote came from Sen. William J. Larkin Jr., an 86-year-old retired Army lieutenant colonel who represents West Point in the mid-Hudson Valley. Advocates are understandably buoyed by support from the 35-year state legislator who saw combat in World War II and the Korean War.

Larkin joins at least six Senate Republicans who support the measure, including Sens. George D. Maziarz of Newfane and Mark J. Grisanti of Buffalo.

The legalization of medical marijuana has its detractors, but support across the nation is increasing. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of medical marijuana.

The State Senate’s proposal has restrictions that should satisfy some concerns, including limiting its use to 20 “serious conditions” such as cancer, AIDS, traumatic brain injury, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other “severe debilitating or life-threatening” conditions. The Assembly is expected to go along with whatever the Senate passes.

Still out there is the governor’s statement that he would begin a limited pilot program with a smattering of hospitals based on a 1980 New York law that approved, but never implemented, the use of medical marijuana.

The Senate proposal would be far superior to invoking the 1980 law, which would rely in part on marijuana confiscated by police. That is a bad idea, based on what we know now, because that pot would be of uneven quality and could contain unknown ingredients.

Some states, including Colorado and California, have legalized special oil-based marijuana that removes the ingredient that gets people high, allowing it to be used by children. The News has reported extensively about local parents anxiously awaiting legalization in New York so that their children can have access to this drug, which has shown signs that it can reduce seizures.

The potential positive effect on the lives of New Yorkers with serious medical conditions outweighs the potential problems. The State Senate should join the Assembly in approving medical marijuana.