ALBANY -- Legalizing marijuana for medical use, which would produce millions of dollars in revenue for New York, continues to be part of negotiations on the state budget, which is now more than 80 days late, officials said Monday.
"To me the reason for enacting it is treating patients with serious conditions fairly, but the revenue is certainly a reason to make it part of the budget. So, all of those issues are very much up in the air," said Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, who is sponsoring the bill.
Travis Proulx, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson, D-Manhattan, said Monday evening that the Senate and Assembly had reached an agreement to include medical marijuana as part of the budget.
But Assembly officials said no deal had been reached.
Fourteen other states have authorized medical use of marijuana for patients with serious, debilitating or life-threatening medical conditions like HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma. It has been found to relieve nausea, chronic pain and muscle spasms and increase appetite.
If legislation is passed in New York, the state would have the "most narrow and restrictive of any law in the country," Gottfried said.
Proposals to legalize marijuana for medical use have been in the Legislature for more than a dozen years. Last year, when Democrats took control of the Senate, was the first time both houses had identical bills and medical marijuana was thought to have a chance of passing. The Assembly approved a bill in 2007 and 2008. But neither house passed a bill last year.
The legislation is on the Assembly calendar and could be voted on as a stand-alone bill, Gottfried said. It is still in committee in the Senate, which has never passed a medical-marijuana bill.
The Senate included the legalization of marijuana in its budget resolution several months ago. The bill could make its way to the floor or become part of the state budget, said Senate Health Committee Chairman Thomas Duane, D-Manhattan, who is sponsoring the bill. Medical marijuana should be available to people who really need to alleviate their suffering when nothing else has helped, he said
"Both are still possibilities and it's possible that neither will happen," Duane said. "This is Albany after all. Marijuana's a controversial issue."
It's unclear exactly how much the legalization of marijuana would raise. Gottfried said the state would receive money from registration and licensing fees and potentially from taxes on gross receipts on marijuana that hospitals, pharmacies and other entities dispensed.
The Senate has estimated registration and other fees would raise $15 million a year.
Advocates for legalizing marijuana for medical use are holding a news conference Tuesday to urge Paterson to publicly support including a medical-marijuana program in the state budget.
The Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, the state Medical Society and the state Nurses Association are some of the groups that have endorsed the proposal, said Vince Marrone, a lobbyist for the Drug Policy Alliance, which also favors legalization of medical marijuana.
"I'm optimistic that the bill is going to pass one way or the other before the end of session because I think the Legislature has recognized that this is a bill that's good for patients and the public strongly supports it," he said.
Opponents of legalizing marijuana for medical use think it could increase drug abuse and crime.
The legislation would allow certified patients with state Health Department-issued registry identification cards to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The marijuana could not be smoked in public places.
The Health Department would register organizations to acquire, possess, manufacture, sell, deliver, transport and distribute marijuana for certified medical use.
Designated caregivers would be allowed to have up to 2.5 ounces per patient for up to five people.
The legislation would not require public or private health plans to cover medical marijuana.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1986 approved THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, for use in synthetic pill form, but it has been found to be more effective in its natural form.
A Quinnipiac University poll in February found that 71 percent of New York voters think medical marijuana is a good idea and 25 percent said no. Voters between 45 and 64 are most strongly behind the idea, but there is support from all political, racial and regional groups.
By Cara Matthews •Albany Bureau •
June 21, 2010
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