Cuomo’s Weed Plan
May Be Dead on Arrival

January 8, 2014 | Andy Cush

Though Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan for medical cannabis legalization is a step in the right direction, it isn’t enough to get suffering New Yorkers the treatment they need, according to the weed advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project.

Cuomo’s plan, which he will announce in his State of the State address this afternoon, calls for weed to be dispensed by 20 New York hospitals, under a 1980 law called the Antonio G. Olivieri Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Program, which only allows for the distribution of federally legal weed. In a statement issued this morning, the Marijuana Policy Project outlines why that might be problematic.

First, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the country’s only source of federally legal cannabis, is notoriously stingy with whom they’ll allow to use the plant. Second, the Food and Drug Administration will have to approve of the plan, and the Drug Enforcement Administration will have to license the doctors who dispense weed. This will likely be expensive, and giving power to the extremely cannabis-averse DEA will mean headaches for getting the program off the ground. Finally, hospitals, unlike dispensaries, are federally regulated, and would be unlikely to go to non-NIDA sources to get their weed. If NIDA says no, the plan stalls, and patients don’t get their treatment.

What’s the alternative? The state senate’s GOP majority leadership has historically blocked voting on weed-related bills in the past, meaning pushing an alternative to Cuomo’s plan through the legislature might be difficult. Karen O’Keefe, the Marijuana Policy Project’s director of state policies, thinks Cuomo could change that, especially with cooperation from senate co-leader Jeffrey Klein, an Independent Democrat.

“We don’t know if this Senate would refuse to budge in the face of the governor pressing it to act,” she told ANIMAL in an email. “Last year, Governor Cuomo was not supportive of medical marijuana at all. I hope very much that he uses his considerable political influence to urge the Senate–which has an Independent Democratic Conference co-leader–to act on legislation that will actually provide patients access to medical marijuana.”

“For those who want to protect patient and give them access to medical marijuana, the focus needs to be on legislative action,” she added.

O’Keefe also pointed to a quote from Richard Gottfried, a state assemblyman who has sponsored medical cannabis legislation that provides wider access than Cuomo’s plan. “What they say privately is they don’t want to move a bill that doesn’t have the governor’s support,” he told Capital New York this week. “The governor is really the gatekeeper. He could change this from night to day by saying he wants to work with the legislature.”

(Photo: WRVO)