This week, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to announce tightly regulated provisions for marijuana consumption in the Empire State. The executive action would allow limited use of marijuana by those with “severe, life-threatening or debilitating conditions,” according to the New York Times.
The State Assembly has passed cannabis legislation four times in the past, most recently in June 2013 when the Compassionate Care Act (which sounds much like Cuomo’s plan) made its way through the Assembly by a vote of 99-41. The State Senate blocked each of the four bills, but with this executive action, Cuomo is able to bypass the Senate altogether.
The Times report says Cuomo’s plan will allow 20 hospitals in the state to prescribe cannabis to patients meeting standards set by the New York State Department of Health. These include cancer, glaucoma and some other serious illnesses.
The state has not released information as to when medical marijuana will be made available to qualified patients. Cuomo’s plan is not likely to include ailments such as anxiety or back pain, as the Compassionate Care Act does not. Dispensaries too, for the time being, will only find a home across the Hudson in New Jersey.
Regardless of Cuomo’s plan, New York still retains relatively strict penalties regarding illegal marijuana. New York State’s penalties for possession run by a modified “three strike” rule, where a possessor is fined $100 and $200 for the first and second offenses, respectively, and $250 and a possible 15 days of jail time for a third. The state is significantly harsher in regards to the cultivation, trafficking and sale of even small amounts of marijuana.
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Polls indicate New Yorkers are largely in support of legalizing medical marijuana, and with an election looming in 2014, Cuomo may be able to bolster support in his democratic base with next week's announcement.
In short, New York is a long way away from being the next Colorado, California, or Massachusetts, for that matter. But it is about to make treatment available for those who need it most, and for those New Yorkers who do, this is a major victory.