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Medical Marijuana Bill Advances In New York

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised doubts on Thursday about whether he would sign into law a medical marijuana bill advancing through the state Legislature. The bill, known as the Compassionate Care Act, was transferred out of the Senate Finance Committee over the previous objections of its chairman. That puts it within striking distance of a vote on the Senate floor, with the Legislature due to break for the year next Thursday.

The bill, which the Assembly passed earlier this year, would have New York joining its neighbors, New Jersey and Connecticut, in legalizing medical marijuana. It would create a growth and distribution system for the drug and allow health-care practitioners to prescribe it for cancer and other serious conditions. In January, Mr. Cuomo introduced a more limited pilot program that doesn't require legislative approval. On Thursday at an unrelated event in upstate Peekskill, the Democratic governor said he was concerned the Legislature's effort could backfire.

"This sets up an entire system for marijuana growing, production, distribution, sales, and if you're not careful and the system isn't done well, this could actually turn into a major negative," Mr. Cuomo said, calling marijuana a gateway drug for other illegal substances. "We want to make it work," he said. "But we also recognize the downside, which is if you don't put in the correct system, you could have a serious problem on your hands."

The medical marijuana issue is coming to the fore during an election year when lawmakers and Mr. Cuomo had been focusing instead on a series of anti-heroin measures, among a handful of issues expected to be in focus before lawmakers leave Albany. The broader legalization effort gained steam after the governor's idea to make pot available to the very ill was criticized by some advocates as too limited.

The governor envisions a distribution system confined to 20 hospitals statewide, a program that is dependent on federal approval, since without it hospitals could jeopardize their federal funding. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, even as states move to legalize it. Advocates saw Mr. Cuomo's idea as a step forward but have thrown their support behind the Senate bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino of Staten Island. She said she could address the governor's concerns.

"I don't disagree with anything he said, which is why we put a considerable amount of hours into the drafting of this to make sure any of those things don't happen," said Ms. Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares power with Senate Republicans. Marijuana as distributed under her bill, Ms. Savino pledged, "will be immune to diversion into the black market."

The co-leaders of the Senate, Democratic Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein and Republican Sen. Dean Skelos, must both agree to bring the bill for a vote. Mr. Skelos hasn't publicly committed to doing so. But Ms. Savino said a discussion "at the leadership level" allowed the bill to move to the Rules Committee, the powerful panel where Senate leaders decide what gets a floor vote. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican who had vowed to not let the bill move forward, didn't return calls for comment.

If the bill moves through the Senate, it would become one of the few pieces of major legislation to reach the governor's desk without his direct involvement. Mr. Cuomo has said he would sign the bill if it "makes sense." Ms. Savino said she met with the governor's staff on Thursday and had "no major disagreements." Asked when she expected an agreement with the governor's office to be finalized, which would result in a floor vote, Ms. Savino replied: "It's like tomato sauce, you know? When it's done, you just know."


News Moderator - The General @ 420 MAGAZINE ®
Source: Online.wsj.com
Author: Erica Orden
Contact: Contact Us
Website: Medical Marijuana Bill Advances in New York - WSJ
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