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New York State of Marijuana: Why the Half Steps, Gov. Cuomo?

Medical marijuana will be made available via hospitals if New York Gov. Cuomo has his way.

On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo switched 180 degrees from his long-time opposition to medical marijuana, declaring in his State of the State speech that he would be allowing 20 hospitals to administer cannabis to patients with cancer and other horrific, though at this point unspecified, diseases. New York has ostensibly become the 21st medical-marijuana state, joining the rest of the Northeast.

This begs the most obvious of questions: Why is the voting public being forced to watch yet another politician pussyfoot around with half steps towards real Drug War reform with half-assed medical marijuana regulations that are already being called next to impossible to implement for a wide variety of reasons, one being due to the inability for said hospitals to adequately administer said medical pot. This doesn’t even get into how some activist groups, such as the Marijuana Policy Project, are pointing out that hospitals are federally administered, and therefore dependent upon federal funding. Most hospitals will most likely be loath to risk said funding by distributing what is still an illegal drug on the federal level.

New York State decriminalized marijuana back in 1977, declaring possession of up to 25 grams in the privacy of one’s home to be nothing more than a civil fine. This is conveniently ignored in discussions about marijuana law reform by most state politicians.

Then there’s the fact that New York Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) managed to get their own medical use bill, the Compassionate Use Act, passed by the New York State Assembly in 2013, but the session ended without the Senate voting on the bill.

In addition, two rabble-rousing New York politicians, Sen. Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Chrystal Peoples-Stokes, have introduced nearly identical bills, with Sen. Krueger’s known as The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), both seeking to flat-out legalize, regulate and tax marijuana sales to consenting adults. MRTA is a bill most could live with, making a lot of money for the state, saving so many people from having their lives ruined by acquiring criminal records for possessing and smoking flowers, and allow police to actually work on solving real crime and stopping violent criminals.

Apparently, Gov. Cuomo is trying to revive the Oliveiri Statute, a medical marijuana statute sitting unused on New York State law books since the early '80s. Why he simply doesn’t sign the Gottfried/Savino bill, or go for broke and simply declare his support for full legalization, regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana is anyone’s guess. In recent polls, as many as 58% of respondents said an emphatic yes to outright legalization.

It isn’t only activists and those politicians who have bills before the state legislature now who disagree with Gov. Cuomo’s medical marijuana plans. New Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson is vowing to make possession of 15 grams or less in his county nothing but a civil offense. "If the (state) Senate Republicans are not willing to pass that law, then I don't think the people of Brooklyn can wait," he says. "These arrests (more than 12,000 in 2012) are clogging the criminal justice system.”

Now that Cuomo is on board for medical marijuana, he's stepped away from making sure New York's decrim law is truly decrim and not a front for "in public view" arrests. He seems a bit confused. But this is still a step in the right direction.

Preston Peet

Preston Peet

Editor of "Under the Influence, the Disinformation Guide to Drugs," former editor of DrugWar.com, and writer of numerous articles around the globe.