Medical Marijuana law under debate in New York: Cuomo, among others, endorses legislation

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By Sydney Schneider

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 11.26.47 PMThe legal status of cannabis, both for medical and recreational uses, has been a constant source of debate in the U.S. Recently, Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use in small doses, prompting even more discussion about the issue.

To the surprise of many, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo is preparing to legalize medical cannabis in the state, which would benefit as many as 100,000 people with chronic pain, cancer and other serious conditions in New York City alone.

However, the law as it is currently written only allows for 20 hospitals across the state to prescribe marijuana to patients with glaucoma, cancer and other diseases (the New York State Department of Health will set these standards later). This would not allow for private dispensaries anywhere in the state, according to the legislation.

Cuomo’s stance on medical marijuana was strongly oppositional as recently as April, when he stated, “I do not support medical marijuana. I understand the pros and cons. I understand the argument. We are looking at it, but at this point, I don’t support medical marijuana.” Now, the benefits for those with health problems have seemed to outweigh any previous hesitations.

Many of Cuomo’s critics insist that his recent stance change is a result of 2014 being a re-election year for him, while still others praise his decision.

Recent polls have shown that the majority of Americans (around 56 percent) support the outright legalization of marijuana, and a huge majority of New Yorkers (a staggering 82 percent) support the legalization of medical cannabis.

It would, therefore, be advantageous for Cuomo to sign this law into effect, bypassing the legislature with executive action, especially at a time when public support for the law runs high and re-elections draw near.

Associate Professor of political science and Director of Union’s Law and Public Policy Program Bradley D. Hays offered his insights on whether or not he thought that this law change is indicative of further reform. “If you look at Washington and Colorado (the two states that have legalized small amounts of possession and use of marijuana for recreational purposes), both states had medical marijuana first,” he said. “Washington passed its medical marijuana law in 1998 through popular initiative and Colorado passed its in 2000 as a ballot measure. But there are many other states that have not moved from medical to recreational usages and even rejected those moves, such as Nevada.”

Though popular opinion among New Yorkers and Americans seems to favor legalization of the drug, he says, there’s no way to tell whether or not this will lead to the legalization of recreational cannabis.

Hays also added, “I think the more notable change is that New York, once a state with the toughest anti-drug laws in the nation (i.e. the Rockefeller laws), has now begun the process of evaluating whether such harsh penalties for what some people describe as a victimless crime is consistent with the values of New Yorkers.” Some people support the legalization of recreational marijuana because they believe the drug does not harmfully affect the user. They also believe that it would unclutter the prison system of individuals convicted of marijuana possession.

In the end, it is still unclear whether or not Cuomo’s change of heart and subsequent policy change will lead to further reform, but public support (even on a national level) will continue to grow.

Many insist that marijuana is well on its way to becoming fully legal for recreational use, even within the next few years.

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