Lawmakers in New York State say they believe medical marijuana is close to reality in that state.
Backers of MMJ, boosted by rising poll numbers and the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, say they think legislation will pass this spring.
“We’re closer to this than we have ever been before,” said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national reform organization.
Technically, New York is already one of 28 states that have adopted some form of medical weed. Cuomo announced earlier this year that he would start a limited program without the involvement of the legislature.
The program would allow patients with a limited number of disorders to obtain medical weed from 20 hospitals across the state. It would be tightly regulated and off limits to most.
Attempts to legalize MMJ, as well as recreational pot, have floated in Albany for years, but powerful forces have long stood in the way. Though Democrats dominate both houses of the legislature, the Senate is controlled by a bipartisan committee that makes most decisions behind closed doors.
That committee, which has a decidedly conservative bent, has always blocked marijuana reform. But Cuomo’s move, coupled with polls showing the vast majority of New Yorkers favor medical cannabis, may finally have pushed lawmakers into action.
A newly revised bill under consideration in the state Senate would build on Cuomo’s plan and institute a real medical pot program for patients across the state.
There’s still opposition in the Senate, so proponents have placed tight restrictions on the program. Rather than giving doctors freedom to recommend weed for a wide range of symptoms, the bill would limit MMJ to about 20 serious conditions, from cancer and AIDS to Parkinson’s disease and PTSD.
The legislation also would bar anyone under the age of 21 from smoking medical marijuana, though edibles or other products might be available to them.
Sen. Diane Savino, the Staten Island Democrat who sponsored the bill, said she created the tightest regulations in the country to overcome fears by opponents that MMJ would lead to widespread abuse.
It’s not yet clear whether the Senate leadership has moved far enough on the issue to allow a vote. But if they do, Savino is confident she has more than enough supporters to pass her bill in the Senate. Passage in the Assembly is relatively easy.
Senate Republican leaders said they would take a “cautious approach” to the proposal.
“We have not seen the revisions and will review them,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif.
Cuomo has been likewise noncommittal about MMJ legislation, saying he will review anything that comes out of the legislature before committing to sign it.
But pot proponents say he’s already responsible for kick-starting debate in Albany. His announcement of an executive medical marijuana program reopened discussion on the issue and reminded voters why it’s a critical issue.
“When the governor talked about it in January, it absolutely elevated the issue and gave it a heightened level of credibility,” said Patrick McCarthy, a lobbyist who represents a Colorado cannabis grower.