With Time Running Out, New York Must Decide on Medical Marijuana

The New York State Legislature has just more than three days to approve a bill that would legalize medical marijuana across the state, before the legislative session ends on Thursday, June 19. If it doesn't pass--and it hasn't passed the last sixteen times it has been introduced--it will be back to the drawing board.

Activists who have pushed to pass the bill, known as the Compassionate Care Act, remain stubbornly confident this will be the year--it is, after all, the furthest the bill has made it through the legislature since it was initially introduced in 1997. But Governor Andrew Cuomo is not bending over backwards to help move the legislation along. To the contrary, on Monday, Cuomo enumerated a laundry list of changes he wants to see implemented before he will support the bill to the Daily News.

A version of the bill would have to be filed Monday to be voted on by Thursday. (According to Senate rules, a bill must sit on senators' desks for three days before it can come to a vote.)

Cuomo's concerns include the acts of smoking itself (Cuomo wants it prohibited in favor of other means of ingesting the drug, like pills and vaporization) and the number of organizations who can operate dispensaries (the bill says 20, Cuomo wants just five).

Gabriel Sayegh, state director of New York for the Drug Policy Alliance, a group lobbying in favor of the bill, was dismayed the Governor chose to air his concerns to the newspaper at the eleventh hour after "his administration provided no input, despite repeated requests" earlier in the process.

With the clock running down on Monday, both Senator Diane Savino, the bill's sponsor in the New York State Senate, and Cuomo were both guests on Syracuse public radio station WCNY's The Capitol Pressroom, where they aired their respective grievances.

Savino pushed back against Cuomo's characterization of the bill was cobbled together, not well-thought-out. "I, myself, have been working on this bill daily for the past two years, but Assemblyman Gottfried has been working developing a medical marijuana policy in New York State for close to 18 years," Savino said. "So to portray the two of us as not being thoughtful, or not having thought through the components of this bill, is a bit disingenuous."

Minutes later, Cuomo claimed on the same radio program that he "went first" by proposing a plan to legalize medical marijuana on a limited basis in his state of the state address in January. Despite his professed enthusiasm for legalization Cuomo insisted he would not support a bill that didn't address all of his concerns. "I'm not going to be part of a system that is just going to wreak havoc."

The bill presently sits before the Senate Rules Committee, headed by Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (who has historically opposed the bill). It is the last committee the bill must pass through before going to the floor for a vote.

Send story tips to the author, Tessa Stuart

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