The New York State Assembly passed new medical marijuana legislation May 27, leaving the Senate to decide the fate of MMJ by the time the legislative session ends in June.
The Assembly has approved MMJ before, but earlier this spring Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, said Assembly members would pass it again if it came up in the Senate, as it has in recent weeks. The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 91-34.
Democrats technically control both houses of the New York Legislature. But while the Assembly leans to the left, the Senate is much more conservative. A breakaway group of independent Democrats has formed a coalition with Republican leaders to control the Senate, while the GOP picks the leadership of committees.
A medical weed bill cleared the Senate health committee in May, a major step for a proposal that has repeatedly died in committee in years past. But the finance committee still must approve it, and that’s far from certain.
It’s also unclear whether Senate leadership – made up of Republican Sen. Dean Skelos and independent Democratic Sen. Jeff Klein – would allow the bill to come up for a full vote, or whether it would pass if they do.
Klein is a co-sponsor of the bill, so his approval is certain, but Skelos has said he only supports the legalization of CBD oil, a non-intoxicating marijuana extract helpful only to patients with severe epilepsy. Sen. Diane Savino, the Staten Island Democrat who sponsored the Senate bill, said she’s convinced she has the votes she needs in both the finance committee and the full Senate.
In the Assembly, lawmakers said it was past time to send Gov. Andrew Cuomo effective MMJ legislation. Medical pot proposals have sailed through the Assembly repeatedly in past years only to die long before reaching a full vote in the Senate.
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who voted for the bill, pointed out that various strains of cannabis help children with epilepsy and cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment or chemotherapy.
“Lives could be made more tolerable and longer by enacting this legislation,” Gottfried said.
New York is already, if only in theory, one of 22 states with medical marijuana. Cuomo announced in January that he would go ahead with an executive MMJ pilot program, without legislative participation.
That program would be highly restrictive, distributing the drug from several hospitals across the state. A legislative approach is likely to be more inclusive.
Cuomo hasn’t offered an opinion on the bill that passed the Assembly in May. A spokesman said he would review any legislation that comes out of the legislature.
This year has also seen lawmakers in Minnesota and Maryland pass medical marijuana legislation. And voters in Florida are likely to approve MMJ in their state this fall.
Well than half the nation, in terms of population, number of states, and geography, now lives in places where weed is legal, decriminalized, or approved for medical use. Recreational marijuana was decriminalized in New York in the 1970s, though the state still arrests everyday users by the thousands.