Cuomo’s marijuana project lacks dedicated budget
ALBANY—Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to legalize medical marijuana doesn't come with funding: The financial plan from the executive chamber doesn’t have any money in it to run the medical marijuana program
State health commissioner Nirav Shah has said the project would be conducted like a clinical research program.
Some lawmakers and drug advocates were surprised at the lack of dedicated funding; they said the governor’s plan might not cost the state much, but would still require some money.
“I think there are a lot of real problems with the governor’s approach, and one is financial,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who chairs the lower chamber’s health committee. “They say they are going to run this as a true clinical research program. That costs millions of dollars.
"There is no funding in the budget for the staff," Gottfried continued. "There’s no funding for acquiring the product. There’s no funding for packaging and distributing it.”
The assemblyman said he’d sought answers from the state’s Health Department to questions about how the state plans to fund the research program, but hadn’t received them. “I’ve been trying to get answers to what they have in mind and how they propose to pay for it, and so far we’ve had no information,” he said.
A spokesperson for the state’s Health Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The state of Maryland passed a bill last year authorizing a medical marijuana research program similar to what Cuomo has proposed.
A budget analysis prepared in 2013 for the Maryland General Assembly of costs associated with setting up the state’s medical marijuana operation showed that even a small, limited program would cost the state money to implement. Those costs included at least $150,000 for “ongoing contractual consulting services to assist with the development and implementation of regulations,” according to the bill memo that accompanied Maryland’s legislation.
Cost estimates for the program’s first year included $193,437 for staff and administrative costs, for a three-person full-time staff to help develop regulations and administer the program. In the program’s second year, Maryland estimated costs would jump to roughly $1 million annually for the research program.
Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for legalizing the drug, said the state would have to spend some money just to set up its pilot program.
“It certainly does take money to establish these systems. You have to pay people, state employees, for their time even to develop the regulations,” Fox said.
Gabriel Sayegh, New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said Cuomo's plan would "require a considerable sum of money to be moved forward."
"Based on the experience of other studies that have been done that have successfully secured the appropriate waivers and permits and so forth from the federal government to obtain medical marijuana, it costs millions of millions of dollars,” said Sayegh. “That’s one of the challenges with the research route” New York is taking, he said.