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Tensions run high at medical marijuana deadline

Monday, June 16, 2014
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Supporters cheer after the Senate health committee advanced a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in New York state, May 20, 2014.
Supporters cheer after the Senate health committee advanced a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in New York state, May 20, 2014.

— Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he has serious concerns over a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in New York just hours before the midnight deadline.

The Democrat stymied the efforts of supporters of the so-called Compassionate Care Act Monday, saying that the measure should ban smoking the drug, cut down the number of illnesses it can be prescribed for and require that the program be evaluated in five years.

"If we can address the concerns, there will be a bill," Cuomo told public radio's "Capitol Pressroom" while defending his suggestions. "But I'm not going to be part of a system that is just going to wreak havoc."

Sen. Diane Savino, the Staten Island Democrat who sponsored the measure, says the bill already addresses many of Cuomo's concerns.

Negotiations between Cuomo's office, the Assembly and the Senate began late Thursday and are due before midnight so the Legislature can vote on the bill before the session concludes Thursday.

Under the Compassionate Care act, smoking would be banned for anyone under the age of 21, although the drug could still be consumed through a vaporizer, edible or oil. The bill would also allow patients with one of 20 diseases to be administered marijuana under the supervision of a health care professional. Cuomo wants the legislation changed so only doctors could prescribe the drug.

Savino called Cuomo's position on smoking marijuana disingenuous, citing his executive order to allow 20 hospitals statewide to administer the drug.

Gabriel Sayegh, of the state Drug Policy Alliance, also lashed out at the governor's requested changes, first reported in the New York Daily News.

"It's disappointing to have the news of these concerns come out at the very last minute in a leaked Daily News article," Sayegh told The Associated Press. "It's hard to imagine the governor's serious about getting this done."

While advocates doubt Cuomo's commitment to the Compassionate Care Act, the Democrat says he would waive the required three-day period a bill has to be on a lawmaker's desk before it can be voted on.

"Medical marijuana if done well is a good thing, if it is not done correctly it is a public health and public safety disaster," Cuomo said.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, who controls the upper chamber with a faction of Democrats, was non-committal.

"I'm not ruling it out, not ruling it in," the Long Island Senator told reporters. "But I've learned never say never."

 
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