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Governor Cuomo Announces [Limited] Medical Marijuana for New York

Clarkston Legal Jan. 6, 2014

By: Timothy P. Flynn

Later this week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to announce, in his State-of-the-State address, an executive initiative allowing the limited use of medical marijuana under a set of narrow circumstances. This is surprising given the Governor’s opposition to medical marijuana and given New York’s long-standing tough drug laws; some of the toughest in the nation.

The announcement is also surprising given the perennial attempt made by some of the assemblymen in Albany to pass a medical marijuana bill. While the pot bills seem to shoot through the Assembly, they die in the state senate due to the opposition from a staunch caucus of career anti-pot senators.

To get this accomplished, Governor Cuomo, in addition to his change of heart, is utilizing a little known but long-standing provision in his state’s public health law. The proviso, known as the Antonio G. Olivieri Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Program, allows for the limited use of controlled substances such as marijuana to treat cancer glaucoma, and other diseases “approved by the [New York State Health] Commissioner.” With the Governor’s sudden support, as many as 6 hospitals will be selected this year to administer the program and the administrative “red tape” will be dispatched with presumed executive enthusiasm.

For the record, Antonio Olivieri was a New York City councilman and state assemblyman who died at the relatively young age of 39 from a brain tumor. He was an early proponent of the use of medical marijuana, using it himself to alleviate the effects of his chemotherapy treatments until his death in 1980.

Of course, this comes as big news in New York, with the initiative touted in an above-the-fold article in Sunday’s NYT, which is where the simple minds over here at this law blog first heard of the policy switch. According to the NYT, Gotham issued nearly half a million pot-related misdemeanor tickets in the decade from 2002 through 2012.

Although this development represents a shift from Governor Cuomo’s anti-medical marijuana stance, New York’s law is very limited, with tight controls envisioned to prevent abuse. And let’s not forget that Cuomo is up for re-election in November in a state where, at least according to one college poll, 57% of the voters support legalization of medical marijuana.

When they get around to implementing this medical marijuana program, New York becomes the 21st state in addition to the District of Colombia to legalize medical marijuana.