Assembly Dems To Include Med-Mar In Budget Bill
The one-house budget bill submitted by the Assembly Democrats next week will include a revised version of the Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize marijuana for medical use.
Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who has long championed med-mar, confirmed that this is the first time in Albany history that the provision has been included in a budget bill by his conference.
“Unless something dramatic changes, yes, that is the plan,” Gottfried told me during a telephone interview this afternoon. “It’s my bill with some changes that we’ve worked up over the last couple of weeks that would have eventually gone into my bill except we’re putting them into the one-house instead…By putting it in our budget bill, we jump start a three-way discussion.”
“People might ask: Why does this belong in the budget? The answer is: When creating a new state program that’s going to cost money to administer and create a new source of state revenue, it’s perfectly acceptable to have it in a budget bill.”
One change was to have the excise tax proposed in Gottfried’s bill (being carried in the state Senate by IDC Sen. Diane Savino) from a certain number of dollars per pound to a percentage of the dispensing price. This was necessary, Gottfried said, because the sponsors realized that “a pound of dried leaf and a pound of oil extract are very different and should not be taxed the same.”
The other, more substantive change was the addition of provisions to speed up – at least on a temporary basis – the recognition of organizations that are registered to dispense medical marijuana. The way the bill had been written, it could take a year or two before product was available to patients, Gottfried said, due to the time required to write regulations, process registration applications and grow the plants.
How quickly marijuana could get into the hands of the people who need it remains something of an unanswerable question, due to the fact that the federal government would have to sign off if New York is to procure product from states where it is already legal.
“In order for this concept to work, we would have to get the Department of Justice to acknowledge that there’s nothing wrong if the product goes from one tightly regulated state to another tightly regulated state,” Gottfried said. “Because if not, there’s really no practical way anyone can think of to make product quickly available…And I really do not want to see babies dying for a year or two while they’re waiting for New York to get its system up and running.”
There has been considerable movement on med-mar in recent weeks in the Senate, with several Republicans expressing support for the Compassionate Care Act. This is widely attributed to the strong lobbying efforts put forth by a group of Western New York parents whose children suffer from devastating seizures, either caused by epilepsy or a disorder known as Dravet’s syndrome.
At least one Republican senator – Patrick Gallivan – has said he supports a very limited bill that would legalize a high CBD, low THC oil type of medical marijuana. In Colorado, it’s known as “Charlotte’s Web,” named after Charlotte Figi, who suffers from Dravet’s syndrome and was the first patient who had success with the treatment.
Gottfried said he considers it “inhumane” to patients who would need different kinds of med-mar treatment – like smoking to offset the nausea brought on by chemo, for example – to severely limit access to just one or a few types of the plant, adding: “It’s highly unlikely you could ever develop a production process in New York just to serve a dozen patients.”
The Assembly budget bill will not include any money in the coming fiscal year for med-mar, Gottfried said, because the assumption is that there will be little – if any – initial cost in setting up a med-mar system. The cost – as yet unknown – would ramp up in the 2015-16 fiscal year, but the assumption is that it would be more than covered by the revenue generated once the system gets up and running – revenue that Gottfried said could “possibly” exceed $100 million a year.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a limited medical marijuana plan in his budget proposal that would be established via executive order, reviving a 1980s-era law that has been dormant for years. Gottfried and others panned this approach as cumbersome and too limited in scope. Asked if the the administration has taken any steps to implement the governor’s plan, Gottfried replied:
“If you find the name of anyone in the Health Department who’s working on this project, would you let me know? I’ve been trying very hard to find out that name, and so far I’ve gotten no response.”
The administration has indicated, through top Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz, that the governor would “support” the Compassionate Care Act if it passes both houses and ends up on his desk.
Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos appears to have softened his stance on med-mar, saying he’s now open to legalizing marijuana-based oils and possibly vaporizers, but still doesn’t like the idea of “public smoking.” Skelos also has not yet agreed to letting a bill to legalize med-mar come to the floor for a vote.
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