New York is following in the footsteps of its western cousins Colorado and California in allowing medical marijuana. It will become the 21st state to do so, thanks to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s shift in opinion.
The penalty for possessing a small amount of marijuana in the state has already been reduced to a small fine. While Gov. Cuomo, a Democrat, initially opposed legalizing medical marijuana, he now plans to allow a few state hospitals to dispense it for certain conditions, CBS reported.
The New York Times, which first reported on Cuomo’s announcement, reported that Cuomo’s change of heart is also an effort to boost his popularity, with newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio dominating the New York progressive politics scene. Cuomo's other initiatives include the 2011 legalization of same-sex marriage and the enactment of New York’s tough gun-control laws following the Newton, Conn. shooting last year.
The governor hinted at his support for loosening drugs laws during last year’s legislative session. The decriminalizing of “open view” possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana was the first initiative to soften the state’s harsh drug laws. Pot smokers accrued 450,000 misdemeanor charges in New York City in ten years leading up to 2012, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Still, access to medical marijuana will be much more restricted than in states like Colorado.
The power behind Cuomo’s newest social reform effort is administrative, rather than legislative—no law will be formally passed to legalize medical marijuana. The New York Drug Policy Alliance welcomed the change but said the state Senate should still authorize a state medical marijuana program, which has so far been impeded by Senate Republicans.
State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a leader in the effort to allow medical marijuana in New York, told CNN that Cuomo’s decision represents an important step towards putting a system in place to regulate the legal use of medical marijuana.
"I'm thrilled that the governor has taken this action," said Gottfried. "This is a very key interim step."
Marijuana is effectively used to treat ailments like chronic pain, glaucoma, and nausea from cancer chemotherapy.
Cuomo will formally announce his plans during his Wednesday State of the State speech.