Senate Fails to Pass Medical Marijuana; fix Decriminalization Law
ALBANY, NY — The New York Senate failed to act on two Assembly-approved marijuana reform bills before lawmakers adjourned for the 2013 session Thursday.
Senators in the New York Legislature adjourned for the 2013 session without voting on a heavily supported medical marijuana bill or addressing a bill that would have fixed loopholes in the state’s decades-old marijuana decriminalization law that allows police to arrest people for having marijuana in “public view.”
Assembly Bill 6357, the Compassionate Care Act, which would have allowed the medical use of marijuana by qualified patients in New York, was passed by the Assembly by a 95-38 vote in early June. The Senate failed to act on the identical companion bill, Senate Bill 4406, forcing New Yorkers with cancer, HIV, post-traumatic stress, arthritis, diabetes, or epilepsy to wait at least another year before being able to access medical marijuana.
Under the failed legislation, state-registered patients diagnosed with one of over a dozen serious medical conditions would have been allowed to possess up to 2 and one-half ounces of medical marijuana. The bills would have created one of the nation’s most tightly regulated medical marijuana dispensary programs.
The bill had the support of hundreds of patients and providers and dozens of organizations across the state, as well as wide support from healthcare providers and organizations, such as the New York State Nurses Association, the Collaborative for Palliative Care, GMHC, New York State Pharmacists Society, NY Physicians for Compassionate Care, and the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of New York.
This is the fourth time that the New York Assembly has passed medical marijuana legislation, only to see it die in the Senate. Despite broad support, inducing a recent Siena Poll found that an overwhelming 82% of New York voters support medical marijuana, the Senate has never allowed medical marijuana legislation to come to the floor for a vote.
New York Senators also failed to a vote on a bill that will end the biased and costly practices of falsely arresting tens of thousands of people in New York for low-level marijuana possession before the end of the legislative session Thursday, failing to put an end to a controversial police practice that has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
Under the state’s 1977 marijuana decriminalization law, private possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal citation, punishable by a $100 fine. However, the possession of any amount of marijuana in “public view” remains a criminal misdemeanor.
The bill, Assembly Bill 6716 and its identical companion Senate Bill 3105, was passed by the Assembly in May with a strong, bi-partisan vote.
The proposal, supported by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who used his 2013 State of the State Address to outline the measure, would have decriminalized possessing up to 15 grams of marijuana in public view, while smoking in public would remain a misdemeanor.
A report released by the ACLU earlier this month found that there are more marijuana possession arrests in NY than in any other state. In 2010, NY made nearly 104,000 marijuana possession arrests, making it the number one state in the country for such arrests.
Since 2002, nearly 500,000 million people have been arrested in New York for marijuana possession – the vast majority of those arrests (440,000) took place in New York City. Last year alone in the City, there were nearly 40,000 such arrests, far exceeding the total marijuana arrests in NYC from 1981-1995.
These arrests cost the state over $675 million dollars in enforcement expenditures. A separate report released earlier this year found that the NYPD had spent one million hours making these arrests over the past decade.
The bill had been supported by community organizations throughout the state, Gov. Cuomo, bi-partisan state legislators in the Assembly, New York Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, all five NYC District Attorneys, and law enforcement from Long Island, Buffalo, and Albany.
The New York Times, the Daily News, the New York Post, the Syracuse Times-Standard, and the Buffalo News are among the papers that have written editorials in support the of the reform.