New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will announce Wednesday in his State of the State address that he plans to bypass the legislature and sign an executive order creating an interim medical marijuana program, based on an existing public health law from 1980 that allows the use of controlled substances to treat serious illnesses. The program will involve distributing medical marijuana through 20 hospitals statewide to patients who meet a narrow list of qualifying conditions. 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.
Since 1996, 20 states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws that grant access to medical marijuana, including, most recently, Illinois and New Hampshire. In New York, the legislature has been debating a medical marijuana law every year since 1997, and while the Assembly has passed the bill four times – most recently in 2013 – the Senate has never acted on the measure. New Yorkers overwhelmingly support medical marijuana: a recent poll by Sienna College registered 82 percent support for medical marijuana in New York, including 81% of both Democrats and Republicans. Yet the Senate has yet to even hold a hearing. When Governor Cuomo had previously expressed opposition to medical marijuana, many in the Senate suggested they did not need to support the bill since the Governor was opposed. Now that Governor Cuomo has expressed support and committed to taking action, advocates are applauding the Governor and turning back to the Senate to make a final push for comprehensive legislation.
Statement from gabriel sayegh, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance:
“We thank the Governor for his leadership and for taking action on behalf of some suffering patients in New York. With the Senate failing to act, patients have been left to suffer. By moving to implement the 1980 Olivieri law, the Governor is doing everything he can within his executive power to help alleviate the suffering of some patients, without having to wait on the Senate. The Governor understands, as we do, that the Olivieri law was written nearly 35 years ago, and may not be sufficient to deal with the issues patients face in 2014 – and thus the legislature still needs to act. Comprehensive medical marijuana legislation has long languished in Albany. 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. 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.”