Identical medical marijuana bills were introduced into both the New York General Assembly and the Senate on Tuesday. If either Senate Bill 6357 or Senate Bill 4406 pass, it could make New York the 19th state to approve medical marijuana.
The bills, introduced by Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Staten Island Senator Diane Savino, would allow patients to possess and use up to two and a half ounces of marijuana at a time.
The program would be governed by the New York Department of Health and would cover a long list of ailments ranging from Parkinson's disease to wasting syndrome to (importantly) post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would register for one year at a time, unless you have a terminal illness in which case your doctor can recommend your card only expire when you do. Morbid, eh?
The bill does not mention patient home cultivation, except to say that possession of marijuana will not be legal if it is "consumed, grown or displayed in a public place". That move has a few people concerned, including Empire State NORML: "Empire State NORML strongly supports the right of certified patients or their designated caregivers to cultivate their own medicine," the group said. "But there should at least be a hardship provision for certain certified patients with transportation, physical or financial difficulties or their designated caregivers to cultivate their own medicine instead of having to rely on registered organizations."
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.
The bills do discuss licensing growers and sellers who can cultivate, dispense and deliver cannabis to patients or caregivers. The Health Commission would iron out the number of growers and dispensaries and other details later, if the bill passes. Herb sold to patients would be taxed $125 per pound, with half of the money collected going to the county and the rest going to the state. Herb sold from grower to distributor could be taxed as high as $250 a pound.
"Patients and their families in New York have suffered far too long because New York continues its retrograde approach to marijuana policies, even as other states move forward with more sensible approaches," Julie Netherland, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance's New York offices, said in a press release. "A growing body of research shows that medical marijuana can be an effective treatment for a number of serious conditions. People living with multiple sclerosis, cancer, Parkinson's, HIV/AIDS and other debilitating conditions should not have to wait any longer to get access to a medicine that may help alleviate their pain and other symptoms. There is simply no sensible reason for patients and their families to wait any longer for relief."
But despite the need for such changes in New York state law, Governor Andrew Cuomo says his anti-medical marijuana position has not changed. Apparently, he knows better than the Pharmacists Society of New York, the Medical Society of New York and the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of New York all support medical marijuana treatments.
As New York University resident physician Dr. Sunil Aggarwal told the Village Voice that it's well past time for medical marijuana in the Empire State:
"This bill needs to be passed," Aggarwal said. "Thousands of patients in NY state could benefit from medicinal use of cannabis under a doctor's supervision. The safety level, the research, and clinical experience in other states are there."