While several medical marijuana bills have come before the New York State Legislature in the states long and twisted history… all having been killed like a diseased animal -out of political necessity. Just as it seems like the ‘fat lady’ was about to sing for the pro-pot community – some elected official who was facing his constituents wrath, and needing to pander for some ‘fearful middle-of-the-road’ votes would turn their back on the majority, for the sake of their own job security.
A committee of New York lawmakers today approved legalizing marijuana production, sales and use for medical needs.
The 21-4 vote in the New York State Assembly Health Committee was not surprising in a chamber that has approved medical marijuana three times since 2008.
But the passage — which included votes from three Republicans — marks a renewed effort by some New York lawmakers to join 19 other states and the District of Columbia in making pot available for people who suffer from cancer, epilepsy, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other painful and sometimes life-ending conditions.
This year, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan. and Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, have introduced a bill they say would provide more oversight in a medical marijuana industry. They hope the tighter restrictions over who could grow, sell and buy marijuana will draw more support from colleagues, especially in the New York State Senate where lawmakers have not voted on the issue.
But their biggest hurdle could be a fellow Democrat. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not embraced medical marijuana. “I’m not in favor of it,” Cuomo said in early December, saying the risks outweigh the benefits.
Proponents, like Susan Rusinko, of Auburn, went to Albany today to convince the governor otherwise. Rusinko, who has multiple sclerosis, has been using marijuana illegally for eight years to help her cope with pain and spasms. She was scheduled to speak at a press conference in Albany following the Health Committee’s vote.
“I tried everything to deal with my pain,” Rusinko said in a news release. “Medical marijuana made it possible for me to get on with living my life and being there for my three boys. I shouldn’t have to face criminal charges for using a medicine that helps me.”
Gottfried and Savino’s bill would allow doctors, physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners to recommend patients for marijuana use to the state’s Department of Health. The department would create a registry of approved patients, who would have a photo identification card to buy up to 2.5 ounces of pot at a time from certified growers or dispensaries. The card would be valid for a year or less, depending on the recommendation from the healthcare provider.
“If the patient and physician agree that the patient’s severe debilitating or life-threatening condition should be treated with medical marijuana, the government should not stand in the way,” Gottfried said in a news release. “It is cruel to deny treatment to patients who are suffering or to turn them into criminals.”
The department would also be in charge of approving growers and sellers. Growers must cultivate pot at indoor, secure locations; sellers must ensure their distribution allows for no sales to anyone other than approved patients or caregivers. Entities growing and selling would be taxed up to $250 a pound, according to the proposal.
Central New York lawmakers supporting the bill include Assemblymen Sam Roberts, D-Syracuse; and Bill Magee, D-Nelson.
The bill will go next to the Assembly’s Codes Committee. There is no vote yet scheduled for the Senate.