New York is in line to become the next state to legalize medical marijuana. Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to use the occasion of his 4th "State of the State" address to announce his intentions to add New York to the list of states currently allowing medical marijuana.
Cuomo will use executive rather than legislative action to modify existing regulations. Sources say Cuomo intends to resurrect legislation that was proposed in the 1980s. Democrat State Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan favors legalizing pot: she says she is "thrilled." "I am very pleased to learn that the Governor's thinking on marijuana policy is evolving, and that he will be using an executive order to allow some pilot model for medical marijuana. I think ultimately, the right answer for the state is legislation to ensure that people who need to use marijuana for health care purposes have safe, easy access. But also to recognize that our criminal model of marijuana has completely failed. And I personally believe the right answer for New York State is regulation, taxation and non-criminalization."
The New York Times reported Saturday that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to allow 20 hospitals to dispense marijuana for certain ailments, including cancer and glaucoma. WAMC's political observer Alan Chartock points out Cuomo is taking a conservative approach. "Dick Gottfried, the dynamic assembly health committee chair, has a more permissive program he is pushing that will probably be passed by the legislature. But Cuomo is using an older law that allows him to administratively do this, and he's picked the top 20 hospitals in New York state and he is going to say that if you want it and you can prove that you really have an illness, and you want to go through the hospital. This is not some head shop. This is a very tough protocol to go through. Then you can get the medical marijuana. That way he gets credit from the progressive democratic community for doing this thing and from those people who are really suffering."
Chartock adds Cuomo's move will serve to burnish his credentials with the Democrat and the Liberal factions. The Drug Policy Alliance, which was briefed on the Cuomo plan Saturday, said it would be a huge change. But New York should still enact legislation authorizing a state medical marijuana program that has been blocked so far by the state Senate's Republicans.
Jason McGuire, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, says "Governor Cuomo's flip-flopping executive action on medical marijuana is a publicity-seeking gambit designed to win him plaudits from the far Left. " Cuomo's opposition to relaxing medical marijuana laws was present in every year of his term until this one. On the heels of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's coronation as the Empire State's most prominent progressive leader, the Governor is scrambling to pacify his progressive base. Seems to be the only explanation for his sudden awareness of sexual harassment in the State Assembly, the meager use of his clemency powers, and now hospital hemp."
Star Nigro, a pro-hemp activist from Kingston, warns that as the doors are opened to legalizing marijuana, there will be more decisions to be made involving who will grow, refine and distribute the drug, not to mention the roles pharmaceutical and insurance companies will play. "The pharmaceutical industry right now has already patented a part of the plant called CBD, which is a part of the plant which is the healing factor, which helps to shrink tumors and is good for diabetes, alzheimers and a number of different diseases that have to deal with inflammation."
Nigro says the extracted chemical has no psychotropic effect. Again, Jason McGuire: "When it comes to marijuana, Mr. Cuomo is experiencing a 'mind-altering' election year. The irony is that the left will likely be unsatisfied by the governor's executive action and will continue to push for even more permissiveness regarding the use of this dangerous drug."
The Cuomo administration isn't commenting ahead of Wednesday's State of the State address. The question of whether Governor Cuomo experienced a change of heart on the matter - or - if he is looking at legalized pot with an eye toward shining up his political image, will likely be answered as the year unfurls.