An upcoming bill in the New York Legislature that would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes is getting no love from New York’s gov — Andrew Cuomo said yesterday that he still thinks the cons outweigh the pros when it comes to medical marijuana and that he wouldn’t support the bill…this year, anyway.
However, medical marijuana advocates tell the Voice that the fact that he’s even willing to consider medical marijuana in the future is a big step for Cuomo, who said while campaigning for governor that he wouldn’t support medical marijuana at all.
“We knew [Cuomo supporting medical marijuana] was a long shot because he said he wouldn’t support it during his campaign,” Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, says. “That said, the fact that he’s even willing to consider it is encouraging.”
Cuomo says there isn’t enough time for the Legislature to fine-tune the bill — which is expected to be introduced by Staten Island state Senator Diane Savino in the next few weeks — into something he’d consider signing.
“There are tremendous risks,” he told reporters yesterday in Utica. “I think the risks outweigh the benefits at this point.”
Citing his background as a prosecutor, the governor added “We
have a terrible problem in this state, still, on drug use.”
The governor’s office didn’t get back to us when we asked what specific
concerns Cuomo has about medical marijuana. However, as we learned while
covering Arizona’s push to legalize medical marijuana (yes, medical
weed is allowed in the far-right-wing shangri-la that is the Grand
Canyon State but not in “progressive” New York), people on the fence about medical
marijuana tend to say the same thing: we don’t want this to turn into
California, where the medical marijuana law is poorly regulated and
basically anyone who stubs their toe can qualify for a medical marijuana
“Nobody is trying to pass a California-like law,” Gabriel Sayegh,
the director of New York’s Drug Policy Alliance, tells the Voice.
“Nobody wants a ‘wild west’ situation like in California. The bill in
New York makes it so medical marijuana is heavily regulated and for
people who really need it.”
In other words, the way the bill is written will prevent stoners who
claim to have a headache from qualifying for a medical marijuana card.
New York has been wrestling with the idea of legalizing medical
marijuana for about 15 years. Every year, however, something gets in the
way — despite the vast majority of New Yorkers (80-percent, according
to a Zogby poll) supporting the legalization of prescription pot.
Savegh says the reason medical marijuana hasn’t been legalized in New
York isn’t because of a lack of support, but because Albany is an
inefficient “encapsulated version of the Twilight Zone.”
“People in every region of the state support [medical marijuana], but
the extraordinary dysfunction and lack of leadership in Albany prevents
things from ever getting done,” Savegh says.
If there’s a guy who knows how to get things done in Albany, it’s
Cuomo (just how he gets those things done remains a mystery), and Savegh
says if the governor would throw his support behind medical marijuana, the
bill would find its way to his desk for a signature before the end of
this year’s legislative session, which ends in June.
“If he gets behind it, it can happen,” Savegh says. “If not, can a
bill get to his desk without him supporting it? Maybe — it’s hard to
imagine that he’d veto a bill that provides relief for people in pain.”
Savegh goes on to say it’s “odd” that a “progressive” governor
like Cuomo — who led the charge to do away with the draconian
Rockefeller Drug Laws when he was the state’s attorney general — wouldn’t support
medical marijuana when places like Arizona have legalized responsible,
heavily regulated prescription pot laws.
Any of the concerns the governor may have about the bill, Savegh
assures us (without getting into too many specifics), are reflected in
the bill. As for the governor’s claim that there’s not enough time this
legislative session to tackle medical marijuana, Savegh echoes what
Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried said earlier this
week: “The legislature and governor have sorted out much more complicated issues
in less time over the years. I think the governor
would find this is very doable.”
Again, the governor’s office didn’t respond to our request for comment. We’ll let you know if we hear back.