Medical marijuana sponsor calls New York prospects 'quite good'
What are the odds that New York State will legalize medical marijuana this session?
"They’re actually quite good," said State Senator Diane Savino, the bill's lead senate sponsor, in an interview Wednesday afternoon. "We’ve made tremendous progress."
On Monday, a bill sponsored by west side assemblyman Richard Gottfried that would legalize medical marijuana in New York passed the state assembly easily, with 99 votes in favor and only 41 against.
Now, the bill needs Senate approval, and Savino says that the bill already has the support of 39 of the state's 63 senators, including at least 12 Republicans. She says that number could ultimately exceed 40, once she tacks on another couple of Senate-friendly amendments.
Savino is a member of the Independent Democratic Caucus, a breakaway group of Democrats that jointly controls the legislative body with the Republicans.
When I asked if she thought the Republican co-leadership would allow the bill to come up for a vote, she said, "They don’t have to allow. They have to agree on an agenda between [IDC leader] Senator Klein and [Republican leader] Senator Skelos."
Should the bill pass, she fully expects Governor Andrew Cuomo, who's been a bit wishy-washy on the issue, to sign on. The governor's spokesman had no comment for this story.
"If the bill passes the Assembly with more than two thirds of the house and the bill passes the Senate with certainly more than half of the house, that's a pretty strong indication to the governor that there's universal support for this," said Savino. "I would find it really amazing if he did not realize that."
New York's bill is tighter than last year's failed iteration in that it does not allow registered medical marijuana users to cultivate their own weed at home.
It's also "one of the most tighly regulated proposals put forward" at the national level, said Julie Netherland, the deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for marijuana legalization.
Thus far, 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.
Unlike in California, which left marijuana regulation up to local counties and municipalities, medical marijuana would be tightly governed by New York State.
In order to qualify, doctors would have to certify that a patient has a "severe debilitating or life-threatening condition" including, but not limited to cancer, glaucoma, sicknesses related to AIDS, or Parkinson's disease. Then, the patient would have to apply to the state health department for approval.
Only then will the patient be able to buy marijuana from a state-registered dispensary.
State Senator Liz Krueger, who has emerged as an unlikely champion of full legalization of marijuana, sees this bill, and another decriminalizing the public possession of small amounts of marijuana, as necessary precursors to full marijuana legalization in New York State.
Netherland, pointing to some very favorable recent poll numbers, said she shares Savino's optimism about the bill's prospects.
"I think what we're seing is this growing committment and awareness to the need for seriously ill New Yorkers to have access to medical marijuana, both in the general public and in the medical community," she said. I think a lot of folks in Albany understand this is the right thing to do. ... Hopefully in a few weeks we’ll have medical marijuana in New York."