Deal Reached To Legalize Medical Marijuana From Harlem To Hempstead

June 19, 2014

marijuanaGov. Andrew Cuomo and leaders of the state Senate and Assembly struck a deal Thursday to legalize some forms of medical marijuana.

The bill to be voted on by the Legislature would not allow smoking of the drug, after Mr. Cuomo expressed concern that that could lead to abuse. Edible and vaporized varieties of marijuana would be legal. The deal also contains a seven-year sunset provision to allow the state to examine the effects of the law before reauthorizing it, and would limit the number of manufacturers to five for the whole state.

“Medical marijuana has the capacity to do a lot of good for a lot of people who are in pain and are suffering, and are in desperate need of a treatment that could provide relief,” Mr. Cuomo said at a press conference in Albany Thursday. “At the same time, it’s a difficult issue because there are also risks that need to be averted, public health risks, public safety risks. And we believe this bill strikes the right balance.”

Mr. Cuomo also called the new bill one of the hardest pieces of legislation he has worked on in four years as governor.

The list of diseases that marijuana could be used to treat, which include epilepsy, ALS, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, cancer and HIV/AIDS, among others, is “not overly expansive,” Mr. Cuomo said. The state Department of Health would oversee its implementation, and only specially licensed doctors would be allowed to proscribe medical marijuana. There would be criminal penalties for those caught defrauding the system.

Mr. Cuomo repeatedly stressed a “fail safe” provision as one of the defining characteristics of the medical marijuana bill, mainly because it gives his office, in consultation with the state police and the health department, the authority to pull the plug if the program appears to be contributing to a rise in crime or marijuana abuse.

“It can be stopped by the executive at any given time,” the governor said.

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Smoking of marijuana could still be allowed at a later time, and would require legislative approval, Mr. Cuomo said. Some advocates decried the compromise that disallowed smoking, arguing the bill doesn’t go far enough to help patients who need relief.

“Apparently, Governor Cuomo didn’t get the memo that it’s terrible policy with unintended consequences – not to mention bad PR – to force a retired grandmother on a fixed income to purchase an expensive and complicated vaporizer just to use the medical marijuana that works for her without being labeled a criminal,” said Aaron Houston, a lobbyist and strategist for Ghost Group, a holding company for marijuana technology companies. “Cuomo already comes across as an elitist, but this proposal reflected a new degree of ineptitude in relating to voters.”

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