New York set to join other states allowing medical marijuana

Gov. Andrew Cuomo – who in the past had opposed medical marijuana – reportedly will announce his support in his State of the State address this week.

Harry Scull Jr./The Buffalo News/AP
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at the Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence in Buffalo, N.Y. on Dec. 21, 2013. Gov. Cuomo will announce his support for medical marijuana in his state of the state address this week.

New York appears poised to join the 20 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo – who in the past had opposed medical marijuana – reportedly will announce his support in his State of the State address this week.

As first reported by the New York Times, Gov. Cuomo’s plan will be more restrictive than other states permitting medical marijuana use for minor ailments, allowing 20 hospitals across the state to prescribe marijuana to patients with cancer, glaucoma or other diseases that meet standards to be set by the New York State Department of Health.

Cuomo, who is up for re-election this year, no doubt is aware of polling which shows that 82 percent of New Yorkers approve of medical marijuana.

Bills allowing such use – the “Compassionate Care Act” – have passed the Democratically-controlled state Assembly, but stalled in the Republican-led state Senate.

While that may change at Cuomo’s urging, the Governor intends to use executive powers under a 1980 law allowing the state health commissioner to approve controlled substances for patients with certain diseases.

The move represents an important shift for Cuomo, reflecting public opinion.

“I do not support medical marijuana. I understand the pros and cons. I understand the argument,” the Democratic governor told reporters last April. “We are looking at it, but at this point, I don’t support medical marijuana.”

Cuomo’s change in position is welcomed by advocates of marijuana use as a medicinal treatment.

“The move by Governor Cuomo is likely to have a constructive, transformative impact on the medical marijuana debate in Albany and across the country,” the Drug Policy Alliance said in a statement.

“The logjam in the Republican-controlled State Senate has made New York the only state in the Northeast without a medical marijuana program – so New Yorkers continue to suffer while residents in neighboring states can gain much-needed relief,” Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said. “That's not acceptable.”

“We agree with Governor Cuomo – New York should have the best medical marijuana program in the country, and we’re going to double our efforts to get the Senate to finally pass the Compassionate Care Act so we can deliver it to the Governor for his signature,” he said.

"I'm thrilled that the governor has taken this action," State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried told CNN. "This is a very key interim step."

Although recreational marijuana remains illegal in New York, possession of small amounts has been reduced to a low-level violation subject to a fine.

While public opinion – and the new laws in Colorado and Washington State – is moving in the direction of marijuana legalization, there is no indication that Cuomo’s opposition to recreational use is changing.

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