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Legislative Sponsors Of Medical Marijuana Call For Passage Of Their Bill

Picture of a marijuana plant
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

  Governor Cuomo officially called for limited access to medical marijuana in his State of the State address. But sponsors of a bill to allow the illegal drug to be used for some medical treatments say Cuomo’s plan is outdated and won’t work.

Governor Cuomo will use powers under a law created three decades ago that is designed to give New Yorkers with cancer, glaucoma, and other serious conditions access to marijuana as a medical treatment.

“20 States have already started to use it,” Cuomo said. “We’ll establish a program allowing up to 20 hospitals to prescribe medical marijuana.”   

By drawing on an existing 1980 state health department statute that would set up a pilot program for medical marijuana, Cuomo avoids the risk that the Republican led State Senate might not approve a larger law to permit the illegal drug to be used for health treatments.  In the past, the GOP, which leads the Senate in a power sharing coalition, opposed Cuomo’s plan to decriminalize the public possession of small amounts of marijuana. The governor partially acknowledged that opposition when he discussed his plan earlier in the week, saying he wanted to have more direct authority over the roll out of medical marijuana in New York.

“If it goes bad, we can correct or improve it, all within our own control,” Cuomo said. 

Under the 1980 regulation, the governor’s health commissioner can appoint a commission to decide how best to administer the program.

The sponsors of a bill to allow more widespread use of medical marijuana say they “welcome” the governor’s proposal, but say there are concerned that the 33 year old regulation is outdated, and may be “unworkable”. Senator Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, is the sponsor in the Senate. Savino says the 1980 law limits how the drug can be obtained, and even suggests that the commission ask the state police for marijuana obtained in drug busts.

“Problematic doesn’t begin to describe it,” said Savino, who says here’s no way to determine the quality of “street drugs”.

Senator Savino says the 1980 law was written before several other states had authorized medical marijuana, and before there was an industry that grows medicinal pot.  She says while the federal government has eased it policies against what is essentially an illegal drug, states are still not permitted to transport marijuana across state lines without a waiver.  New York could not simply buy the drug from growers in California.  Savino says her bill, jointly sponsored by Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, would set up a home grown industry in New York for medicinal marijuana.

“It would allow for creation of an industry that would  grow and cultivate medical marijuana,” said Savino, who says it could lead to the creation of thousands of jobs.  

Savino claims there are enough votes in the State Senate to pass her bill. She says last year the issue got bogged down over the measure to decriminalize public possession of small amounts of pot.

Governor Cuomo is no longer pushing for that bill. He says he had wanted to address complaints over New York City’s Stop and Frisk law, but the new Mayor, Bill deBlasio, is ending Stop and Frisk so there’s less need for a change in the law.

Senator Savino says Cuomo’s plan might help her bill get to the floor this year and win passage.

“I have to redouble my efforts,” she said.

The bill has been approved in past years in the New York State Assembly. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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