Medical marijuana proponents in New York renew push for legalization

Medical marijuana could blunt the pain of New York’s budget crunch.
Proponents of pot as a medicine have renewed their push for legalization, arguing that licensing fees and taxes could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in new revenues for the cash-strapped state.

“There is a huge amount of revenue here,” said state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) who hopes to make New York the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana.
The high-minded talk comes as the state is reeling from Hurricane Sandy bills — and as the pot industry has hired one of the most powerful lobbying firms in Albany to define the issue as a budding financial opportunity.

“It has real economic impact,” said Patrick McCarthy, of the firm Patricia Lynch Associates.
The firm controlled by Pat Lynch, a former top aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was hired by Colorado-based marijuana company, Gaia Plant Based Medicine, to press lawmakers and Gov. Cuomo.

But the governor has offered only toking opposition.
“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, even as he warned that Hurricane Sandy could add $1 billion to the state’s budget deficit this year alone.
Cuomo said 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.

And the state’s influential Conservative Party called legalization of medical marijuana “a horrible idea.” “It sends a wrong message to the youth of the state, and that’s more important than any amount of revenue the state would take in,” said party Chairman Mike Long. The movement to legalize the once-demonized plant for medical use has spread like a weed in recent years. The District of Columbia and 17 states have already legalized marijuana for medical purposes. In November, two states, Washington and Colorado, became the first to legalize pot for off-label — that is, recreational — use.

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