The battle over medical marijuana will be on the agenda when lawmakers return to Albany for the new legislative session.
State Sen. Diane Savino (D-North Shore) plans to introduce her bill legalizing medical marijuana into the Senate in January.
But not all of her colleagues in Staten Island’s Albany delegation are convinced that medical marijuana is the way to go.
The bill would allow seriously ill patients to purchase the drug through a registered dispensing facility, under medical supervision. Patients would have to register with the state Health Department.
The bill would not allow people to grow pot for their own use, Ms. Savino said.
Ms. Savino said that medical marijuana could give a big jolt to the state economy through various taxes and grower-licensing fees, perhaps raising hundreds of millions of dollars for New York as it recovers from Hurricane Sandy.
She said dormant industrial spaces and factories around the state could be converted into pot greenhouses.
“There are multiple ways you can raise revenue,” she said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year said that he thinks the risks of medical marijuana outweigh the benefits.
But Cuomo also wants to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation. That could serve as a springboard to legalizing medical marijuana, according to Ms. Savino.
“Let’s take this discussion a step further,” she said.
A Siena College poll earlier this year found that 61 percent of New Yorkers favored legalizing medical marijuana.
Even if the bill passes next year, Ms. Savino said there was no telling when a program would be up and running here.
Ms. Savino said the bill would be tweaked to make it compliant with the new I-STOP prescription-drug tracking program.
Medical marijuana is legal in 17 states, including neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut. In November, Washington and Colorado legalized pot for recreational use, becoming the first states to do so.
Not all of Ms. Savino’s fellow state lawmakers here back legalizing medical marijuana.
Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island) has voted against medical marijuana bills introduced the last few years by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan).
“Marijuana is still illegal federally,” said Cusick. “So it will cause vast confusion. We have to make sure that federal law jibes with state law.”
“At this point, I’m a firm ‘no’,” said Assemblyman-elect Joseph Borelli (R-South Shore). “In states like California, it’s a sham. It’s sham doctors giving out sham prescriptions and allowing people to get high legally.”
Opponents have said that the legalization of medical marijuana in California only encouraged pot-growing cartels to illegally set up shop in the Golden State.
Critics also have said that marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead to use of harder drugs, a concern on the Island, where abuse of prescription drugs is already rampant.
Others say that medical marijuana is being used as a front to push the legalization of recreational use of pot.
Borelli said that THC, the principal psychoactive element of the cannabis plant, is already available in prescription pill form.
“You can get all the benefits without having to smoke it,” Borelli said.
Ms. Savino said she would sit down with Borelli after he is sworn in “to see if his concerns can be addressed and move him to a ‘yes’ vote.”
She also said it may be time for Congress to “talk about some kind of national standard” in order to eliminate the inconsistency between state and federal medical marijuana laws.
The Department of Justice has cracked down on growers and dispensaries even in states where medical marijuana is legal.
State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) said marijuana ought to be available for medicinal purposes, “but it has to come with the same regulatory safeguards” as other strictly controlled medications, like Oxycodone.
Lanza said that only doctors should be allowed to prescribe marijuana and only pharmacies should be allowed to dispense it.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn), who said she’s “open to the overall concept” of medical marijuana, had the same concerns.
She voted against the Gottfried bill because it allowed nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe medical marijuana.
Ms. Malliotakis also said that there should be a specific list of illnesses that marijuana can be used for.
“It should be specific and limited to a few,” said Ms. Malliotakis, mentioning cancer, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease as possibilities.
“All these are negotiating points,” said Ms. Savino. “There will be changes to this bill. These are valid points for discussion.”
Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-North Shore) favors legalizing medical marijuana.
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