New York may be next to legalize medical marijuana
Written by Cara Matthews
ALBANY — After a legislative session with no progress on legalizing medical marijuana, advocates are hoping that the New Jersey governor’s actions this week and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statement that he is studying the issue will lead to success.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said his state would move forward with its medical-marijuana act, a reversal from his position last month. He said at the time he was concerned that the state legislation conflicts with federal law and practice. The U.S. Justice Department said earlier this month that it is focused on large-scale commercial providers.
Cuomo, a Democrat, has not supported medical marijuana in the past, and he said this week that he has not changed his position. He did, however, leave the door open on the issue.
“We’re talking to both sides of the issue, if you will, and we’re reviewing it, but we don’t have a final position,” he said.
The governor said that though he hasn’t changed his stance, “We’re always learning and listening and talking and growing, we hope.”
New Jersey became the 16th state to legalize medical marijuana under legislation signed by Christie’s predecessor.
In New York, legislation to allow patients with debilitating illnesses to use marijuana if they are registered with the state and receive a prescription from their physician has passed the Assembly before, but never the Senate. Under the most recent version of the bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Sen. Thomas Duane, both Manhattan Democrats, hospitals and pharmacies would do the bulk of the dispensing. The maximum amount that could be dispensed would be 2.5 ounces.
“The big obstacle continues to be getting a couple more votes in the state Senate to enable it to pass,” Gottfried said.
The Democrat-controlled Assembly didn’t vote on the bill this year.
Getting the support of the governor would help immensely, said Gottfried, adding that he has spoken with members of Cuomo’s administration who are reviewing the issue.
“My gut feeling or prediction is that when that’s done he will support legislation because I think the merits are overwhelmingly in support and I think certainly, to the extent he relies on health (professionals’) viewpoints, I think it’s a very clear decision,” Gottfried said.
He said the governor should “focus on the thousands of New Yorkers who are needlessly suffering from life-endangering and debilitating conditions whose lives could be made more tolerable and longer if we would join the other states that allow medical use.”
If the governor were to get behind medical marijuana, “it can make all the difference in the world,” said Gabriel Sayegh, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, penned a letter to Cuomo this week, asking him to support the legislation.
“Anyone who has watched a loved one struggle with a debilitating illness would do almost anything to help alleviate their pain,” she said in a statement. “New Jersey showed real compassion for Garden State residents who are suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis and other life-threatening diseases.”
But the legislation has significant opponents, including the Conservative Party, which in the recent Senate vote to approve same-sex marriage threatened not to re-endorse any Republicans who voted yes. Four of them did so anyway.
“I don’t see how marijuana helps anybody with any kind of sickness,” said Michael Long, head of the Conservative Party. “There’s plenty of prescribed drugs that people can take when they are critically ill.”
He said a state medical marijuana law would be in conflict with federal law, and that legalization would only add to law enforcement problems.
“I am telling you that it will create an enforcement nightmare. There’ll be no control over it,” Long said.
Gottfried said he thinks Christie’s move confirms what has been clear since the Bush administration: “that entities that produce or dispense in clear compliance with state law are not going to be interfered with by the federal government, and the federal government has never gone after individual patients.”
Sayegh said if the legislation were passed as is, New York would have one of the most conservative medical marijuana laws in the country.