ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday he’s comfortable with his plan to allow a limited number of hospitals to dispense marijuana for severe ailments, even as other states loosen marijuana laws more dramatically.
In his State of the State speech on Wednesday, Cuomo will formally announce plans to allow 20 hospitals to dispense marijuana to people suffering from cancer and other selected diseases under state Department of Health regulations. He refused to give details on how he would use his administrative powers — rather than legislative action — to phase in use of the drug.
Cuomo had previously opposed medical marijuana, saying the risks outweighed the benefits. But he said Monday that bypassing the Legislature will give his administration greater control over the program if it needs adjustments along the way.
“It’s not a law, so it’s not the Legislature telling me what I have to do. And that gives me great comfort,” he said.
A bill to set up a statewide system regulating medical marijuana has been stalled in the Legislature for years, but the measure’s Assembly sponsor argued Monday that the law is still needed. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried called Cuomo’s move “an important interim step,” but said the 1980 law Cuomo relies on for his executive action is “limited and cumbersome.”
“There are many patients who could benefit from medical marijuana who cannot be helped under the 1980 law, such as children with severe epilepsy,” said Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat.
About 20 states have medical marijuana laws, including neighboring New Jersey, Vermont and Massachusetts. Advocates argue that marijuana effectively mitigates pain, nausea and anxiety for people afflicted with cancer and other ailments. Opponents believe medical marijuana opens the door to more recreational use of the drug.
Cuomo said broad legislation to legalize, regulate and tax the drug in New York is a nonstarter for him, and that he doubts lawmakers will approve any marijuana-related legislation this year.
“I don’t believe there a legislative hunger to pass marijuana legislation this year,” he said, “but that’s something we’ll have to see.”
Colorado grabbed national attention last week when it became the first state to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use.