ALBANY, NY — At his state of the state address on January 8, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was expected to announce a change in policy that would allow for the limited use of medical marijuana.
This marks a turnabout for Cuomo, who said as recently as last April that he was opposed to the idea. He said at the time, “I do not support medical marijuana. I understand the pros and cons. I understand the argument.” But he added that his opinion was “evolving.”
The move marks New York as the 21st state to allow the use of medical marijuana, and two states, Colorado and Washington, also allow or will allow recreational use. In December 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the growing, distribution and sale of the plant.
In New York, the assembly has passed a medical marijuana bill in the past, but it was blocked in the senate. Cuomo plans to bypass the legislature by using a provision as a health law that will grant about 20 hospitals the authority to prescribe the drug. In states where it is legal, marijuana is typically prescribed to alleviate the side-effects from chemotherapy, to treat chronic pain, glaucoma and other conditions.
According to a statement on the website of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which was briefed on Cuomo’s plan, “Details of the program will be determined through regulations, which will be established by the Department of Health with input by experts. The move by Governor Cuomo is likely to have a constructive, transformative impact on the medical marijuana debate in Albany and across the country.”
gabriel sayegh, who spells his name without capital letters and who is New York State Director of DPA, praised Cuomo for taking the action, but said the senate should also move forward with legalization. sayegh said, “The assembly has on four occasions passed the Compassionate Care Act, but the senate has failed to take action or even hold a hearing on the issue. 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. That’s not acceptable.”
A majority of New Yorkers seem to agree. A Sienna College poll conducted in the state last year showed that 82% are in favor of allowing seriously and terminally ill people to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if recommended by their doctor.
In 2012, a previous poll found that just 57% of voters supported the legalization of medical marijuana, which indicates that the acceptance of marijuana has been growing in the state.
State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat, introduced a medical marijuana bill in the Senate on December 11, 2013. She said, “The illegal marijuana economy is alive and well, and our unjust laws are branding nonviolent New Yorkers, especially young adults, as criminals, creating a vicious cycle that ruins lives and needlessly wastes taxpayer dollars. Worst of all, this system has resulted in a civil rights disaster: African Americans are dramatically more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites, despite similar rates of marijuana use among both groups.”