Westchester Assemblyman Steve Katz on Monday reversed his position on legalizing medicinal marijuana, voting in favor of it just one year after voting against it and 11 weeks after he was ticketed for pot possession.
In a nine-minute speech from the Assembly floor, Katz, R-Yorktown, said he had wanted to support the bill last year, but said he believed at the time there was a “divergence between the will of his district and his core beliefs.”
“My personal life aside, I believe that we can do a better job managing pain for those with severe medical conditions, and that is why this year, I will not only be supporting this bill, but I will be a co-sponsor of the bill, as well,” Katz said.
The Assembly passed the bill by an unofficial vote of 95-38, but it appears unlikely to be signed into law this year. Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, opposes the measure, as does Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who would have to give it final approval.
Katz was ticketed for marijuana possession in March after he turned over a bag with one-eighth of an ounce of pot when he was stopped for speeding on the state Thruway in southern Albany County.
In April, his attorney agreed to an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” which means the charge will be dismissed if Katz completes community service by the end of the month and remains out of legal trouble.
Last week, Katz became the only Republican in the Assembly to vote for a bill that would reduce the penalty for public possession of fewer than 15 grams of marijuana.
Andrew Falk, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran against Katz in 2012, criticized Katz for saying he would be “on the right side of history” for his vote in favor of medicinal marijuana. Falk, of Patterson, Putnam County, said Katz “had the opportunity to be on the right side of history last year.”
Falk said he is “laying the groundwork” to challenge Katz again next year.
“He (changed his vote) after it inconvenienced him personally, not because he thinks of all of the other people,” Falk said. “He doesn’t get to say that he’s on the right side of history.” Katz was one of the first lawmakers to speak during the floor debate on the medical marijuana bill on Monday, acknowledging that there was interest in his position from his colleagues. He did not speak during his speech about his own legal trouble with marijuana, nor has he since he received the ticket in March.
“I believe you can actually hear a pin drop in this room right now,” Katz said in the normally noisy Assembly chamber as he began to speak.
Katz’s change in heart came in part because of a debilitating spinal condition his mother is currently dealing with, he said. Various pain killers “in massive doses” have not alleviated her pain, Katz said. He suggested marijuana could help.
“To be perfectly clear, this bill will not legalize the type of behavior one would imagine in a ‘Cheech and Chong’ movie,” Katz said. “Rather, this bill takes responsible steps in helping those that are clearly in need.”
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, said Katz should be applauded. Gottfried is the longtime sponsor of the medicinal marijuana bill.
“I would like to applaud our colleague, Assemblyman Steve Katz, who should be recognized for his eloquent speech and courage in speaking out on this topic,” Gottfried said.
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