Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, speaks at an event detailing the changes to a medical marijuana bill with Sen. Diane Savino. The bill passed the Health committee 21-4. Photo by Jess String.
April 22, 2013A medical marijuana bill (A.6357/S.4406) drafted to help patients with a debilitating or life-threatening
illness was reported from the Assembly Health Committee last week by a 21-4 vote and Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, is optimistic this bill will pass the Senate this session.
"Everyone knows this bill has passed the New York State Assembly more than once and everyone knows this bill will likely pass the New York State Assembly fairly easily again. The Senate has always been the stumbling block," Savino said.
She said after lobbying and language changes to the bill, the sponsors gained wider support in the Senate.
Savino specifically noted Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, who previously opposed this bill, has now come around to support it. "We are picking up support member by member."
"My count is 38 solid yes votes, six leaning yes. We only need 32 in the Senate. We're going to get this bill done this year," Savino said, referring to new support in the Senate.
Savino also addressed the opposition to the bill by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, "He said that he has concerns … he is entitled to air those concerns and he will be part of this discussion and in fact he may find that some of his concerns will be addressed in this new piece of legislation."
When Cuomo was asked at a press conference last week whether he would support medical marijuana, he responded, "I do not support medical marijuana. I understand the pros and cons, I understand the argument. We are looking at it, but at this point, I do not support medical marijuana."
Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, outlined some of the key changes made to the bill between last session and now. In regards to the definition of a severe debilitating and life-threatening condition, the health commissioner, who would be supported by a clinical advisory that he or she appoints, would be authorized to define debilitating and life-threatening illness in anyway the commissioner sees fit.
"There is a lot more language in the bill authorizing a variety of other pieces of regulation governing the monitoring, including visual monitoring and the tracing of the plant from seed to sale. The regulatory language in the bill is a lot more explicit and involved than it has been in the past." Gottfried said. "There is a tax provision in the bill that would be applied to both manufacturing and dispensing … and the bill provides that half the revenue from that will go to local government."
Savino and Gottfried were joined by supporters of the bill, including members of the New York State Nurses Association; the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York; the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; and the New York State AIDS Advisory Council.
"If the patient and physician agree that the patient's severe debilitating or life-threatening condition should be treated with medical marijuana, the government should not stand in the way," Gottfried said. "It is cruel to deny treatment to patients who are suffering or to turn them into criminals."
Patient advocates offered an emotional plea for "compassionate care," to help with their debilitating illnesses including multiple sclerosis and stage-four cancer.
"I am now in stage four, this means I cannot be cured … we just do not understand why anyone would want to take something away from us that helps us, that makes us feel better — we do not have a lot of time," said patient Beverly McClain. "Why can't we have the best possible lives that we are going to get out of that tiny little bit of time we have left? There is really no reason."
Savino and Gottfried denied any linkage between this bill and the recent discussions about decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana to reduce stop-and-frisks in New York City. However, Gottfried noted if you support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, it is hard to understand why you would not support medical marijuana.
"I have always felt very strongly that the medical use of marijuana should be kept completely separate from discussions of the recreational use," he said.
"It is hard to explain why, on the one hand, you would be for reducing the penalties for the people who are possessing for recreational use, and I agree with doing that, but why, if you support that, would you continue to stand in the way of people who are really suffering and who are desperate to be able to be allowed to use to ease their suffering?" Gottfried said. "I think it is hard for me to see why you would be for one and not the other."
Savino added, "The discussion about whether we decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in public view is a public policy issue that should be debated and should be discussed, it is about appropriateness of penalty. However; it has nothing to do whatsoever with this particular issue…we are proposing an incredibly tightly regulated process in allowing access to marijuana for people who have determined to have life -threatening debilitating conditions. We are not looking to make it easier…this is not about recreational use of marijuana."