Marijuana may hurt short-term memory, but a keen awareness of recent history could help a Brooklyn lawmaker finally get a medical marijuana law passed in Albany.
Even though three previous attempts to bring patients prescription pot have gone up in smoke, state Sen. Diane Savino (D–Coney Island) is confident her more tightly written new bill will blunt the opposition that burned earlier proposals in the Senate.
“The original bills that were introduced and passed in the assembly originally talked about allowing patients, caregivers, and hospitals to grow small amounts of marijuana on site,” said Savino, who is sponsoring her first medical marijuana bill. “That’s not a realistic way to deal with medical marijuana, and one of the things that’s beneficial to New York is we have the experience of several other states that have their own programs. So, we’ve been able to reject some of the worst practices and embrace some of the best ones, so we have the tightest bill possible.”
Cannabis is currently available to patients in 18 states and the District of Columbia, and just this week Maryland lawmakers endorsed Mary Jane for medical use. Colorado and Washington states recently legalized the euphoria-inducing herb completely.
Savino and her co-sponsor Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D–Manhattan), however, want to assure their colleagues that unlike the earlier, half-baked proposals, this bill would not turn New York into California, where the proliferation of prescription pot providers has drawn local complaints as well as raids by the feds. In fact, many of the stipulations in Savino’s bill were specifically written to mellow out the fears that have kept Albany lawmakers from approving medical marijuana in the past.
“We’re not going to be California,” said Savino. “What you don’t want is a very loose program, because that’s what invites the feds to come in. The US Attorneys are very ambitious, they see opportunities and they’ll go after that. The way to avoid that is to have a very tight model.”
For one thing, patients will have to complain about more than chronic back pain to get a prescription for pot. To weed out fakers, the bill stipulates that doctors will only be able to dole out cannabis to those suffering “severe, debilitating, or life threatening conditions,” said Gottfried spokesman Mischa Sogut.
“The first concern we’ve heard is the definition of what marijuana can be used to treat, and in this bill it’s written that pot can only be prescribed to treat severe, debilitating, or life-threatening conditions,” said Sogut. “That includes conditions like cancer, Parkinson’s, AIDS — and the commissioner of health would have discretion to determine what is and is not appropriate.”
Furthermore, the new bill mandates that every plant must be tracked and tagged from the time it is planted to the point of sale, making sure that the state’s legal pot won’t worm its way into the black market.
“This bill is based on the seed to sale model,” Savino explained. “Every client has a bar code, we will know every plant that exists, every patient, and every leaf that gets sold.”
Another saving grace of the bill is that half of the proceeds generated in towns where the marijuana is produced or distributed will go back to the local government, meaning that the budding weed industry will subsidize the extra cost of law enforcement that lawmakers predict will occur in such localities.
“There were concerns that legalizing this would increase needs for law enforcement, which would fall on the localities,” said Sogut. “So, half the revenue generated would be shared with the locality where it was made and dispensed.”
Savino and Gottfried can rightfully expect their bill to pass the Assembly, which has already passed three, more loosely written medical marijuana bills in the past.
More importantly, Savino is convinced she has enough support to get the necessary 32 votes in the Senate, where medical marijuana has never even made it to the floor.
“By my calculus, I believe we have 38 solid votes,” said Savino. “Plus, we probably have another six more that are leaning yes. We’re going to be in a comfortable position going into the Senate.”
Now, the big challenge seems to be getting the bill past Gov. Cuomo, who — despite pushing for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana — has opposed setting up a legal marijuana industry in the state.
“We’re on break from Albany and we don’t return to session until April 15,” said Savino. “During then, we’re going to get our ducks in a row and we’re going to reach out to the governor’s office to work on this. It doesn’t help us to get the bill past the assembly and the senate, only for it to be killed on the governor’s desk.”Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cn