ALBANY, NY — As more and more states continue to reform marijuana laws, New York could join the other 18 states, as well as the District of Columbia, and legalize medical marijuana as early as next year.
When the state legislature reconvenes in January, State Senator Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) plans on introducing a bill that would legalize medical marijuana to the Senate.
The bill would allow seriously ill patients with doctor’s permission to purchase cannabis through a system of state-registered medical marijuana dispensaries. Patients would have to register with the state Health Department to receive access to the dispensaries. The bill would not allow home cultivation by patients or their caregivers.
Several of New York’s neighbors have already passed laws allowing medical marijuana, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and the newest medical marijuana state, Massachusetts, who’s voter approved law takes effect January 1.
“We need to follow this example and pass legislation to allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana,” said Sen. Savino. “There’s tremendous support to legalize medical marijuana in New York. It’s inevitable.”
Savaino adds that medical marijuana could provide some additional revenue for a state still recovering from Hurricane Sandy in November.
“Licensing and taxing of marijuana growers, dispensaries and sales could generate upwards of $1 billion for New York’s cash-starved coffers,” Savino added.
Medical marijuana legalization could have strong support from colleagues, and a renewed medical marijuana lobbying campaign has already begun. New York lobbyist firm Patricia Lynch Associates has been retained by Colorado-based Gaia Plant Based Medicine, to press lawmakers and the governor to legalize medical marijuana.
Governor Cuomo, while pushing for further reductions in penalties for possession of marijuana, remains skeptical of medical marijuana in New York, however. Cuomo has said that he believes more research is needed to prove that legalizing medical marijuana will help people with problems such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, yet not increase drug abuse and criminal activity.
“I understand the benefits, but there are also risks — and I think the risks outweigh the benefits at this point,” Cuomo said earlier this year.
Cuomo wants to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation. New York decriminalized marijuana possession under 25 grams in the 1970′s, but the law has loopholes that have led to New York City’s reputation as the “Pot Bust Capital of the World“.
Under New York state law, the private possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal civil citation, punishable by a $100 fine. By contrast, the possession of any amount of cannabis in public view is a criminal misdemeanor.
In June, Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged lawmakers to close the ‘public view’ loophole. That effort was ultimately quashed by Senate majority leader Republican Dean Skelos, who argued, “Being able to just walk around with ten joints in each ear, and it only be a violation, I think that’s wrong.”
In October, Gov. Cuomo reiterated his support for amending the state’s marijuana laws. Speaking at the New York State Trooper Class of 2012 graduation ceremony, Cuomo said that he “would not consider” convening a special legislative session unless lawmakers were willing to consider reforms to reduce New York City’s skyrocketing marijuana arrest rates.