New York is Closer Than Ever to a Passing a Comprehensive Medical Marijuana Law–But Don’t Hold Your Breath


On Tuesday, the New York State Senate’s Health Committee voted to approve the Compassionate Care Act. If the bill goes on to pass the full senate, it would create a comprehensive statewide system for New Yorkers to access medical marijuana.

I know what you’re thinking–didn’t Governor Andrew Cuomo say back in January that he was going to legalize medical weed? Yeah, he said that, but his declaration came with a truckload of caveats: the program would be limited only to patients with specific ailments, and the marijuana, which the state planned to buy from the federal government, would be dispensed at just 20 hospitals. That plan, which was allocated $0 of funding in this year’s state budget, has enough built-in logistical obstacles that, realistically, it will years before it sees the light of day, if it does at all.

…Which brings us back to the Compassionate Care Act: the bill medical marijuana advocates think is the state’s best bet for achieving the kind of access that patients in other states already have, and the bill could–could–pass the legislature sometime in the next three weeks.

Tuesday’s vote was just the first of two committee votes the bill needs in its favor before it makes it to the floor. But the fact that it passed the health committee is actually a milestone in its own right: the bill has been introduced in the New York State Assembly every year since 1997, and though it has passed that house four times, it has always died in the Senate later. The bill has only made it past the health committee on one other occassion.

So, what was different this time? The Drug Policy Alliance’s Gabriel Sayegh says, “The thing that’s different here is that there is a much more significant public campaign for reform, patients are far more active than they’ve ever been, there is a national wave of reform underway and the bill sponsor, Senator Savino, she fought tooth and nail inside the Senate in order to get that up for a vote.”

Still, you probably don’t want to pour your savings into dispensary equipment just yet. The legislative session ends June 19, and the bill still needs to pass the finance committee. If it gets there, Sayegh, who’s organization has been a major supporter of the bill, believes it has a good shot at passing. “It’s actually going to be an easier vote in many respects because there are more supporters on the finance committee than there were on the health committee.”

The question is whether or not the committee chair and the senate leadership will allow the bill to come up.

The bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Staten Island’s Diane Savino, is working on that now. “We don’t know when its going to come to the finance committee,” Savino’s chief of staff, Robert Cataldo tells the Voice. It would take “at least a couple of weeks,” he added. The legislative session ends exactly three weeks from today. Asked if he was hopeful the bill would get it to the committee in time, Cataldo asked, “Really?,” then laughed loudly. “No, I think our bill is going to fail.” And you know what they say: there’s an element of truth in every sarcastic remark.