There has always been a rivalry between the east coast and the west; whether it’s sport, politics or hip hop, New Yorkers are always determined to out battle Californians. In the arena of medical marijuana however, as it currently stands, there is one clear winner.
MMJ was legalized in California way back in the Compassionate Use Act of 1996; in this way, the Golden State was way ahead of the other 49 on the medical marijuana front. Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Nevada followed Cali’s lead in 1998, and over the last twenty odd years, MMJ has been steadily legalized in 29 different states in the U.S.
One of the most recent states to take up the cause was, surprisingly, New York. The government in Albany only passed the required act in July 2014, following a lengthy debate in the state senate. This made them the 23rd state in the U.S. to legalize MMJ (a staggering statistic when you consider New York’s traditional liberal leanings).
Even more startling was the restrictiveness of the bill when it was finally unveiled to the NY public; despite passing with a landslide, it was in fact one of the most conservative in the whole country.
Cuomo has long since taken a staunch anti-marijuana position, and the Republicans in the Senate got a little weak in the knees at the prospect of MMJ legalization escalating rapidly to recreational legalization. The result was a bill that failed to cater to the basic needs of most patients across the state.
While the signs are good that this restrictiveness is set to change due to continued pressure and advocacy from support groups, it doesn’t change the fact that it puts New York light years behind California when it comes to MMJ law.
With that in mind, here are three major policies from Cuomo’s bill that need to change if New York wants to draw even or surpass the Golden State.
1. Introduce Smoking
As patients in California know, smoking marijuana is the most effective form of consuming the drug, and the most potent method of treatment for a myriad of conditions that MMJ can ease. Bizarrely, this was the one form of consumption that was left out of Cuomo’s bill – presumably because it is the form most associated with recreational use.
In a effort to distance himself from the thorny issue of recreational legalization, Cuomo insisted on a smoking ban. New York patients can instead consume the drug in the form of extracts, tinctures, oils and edibles.
Meanwhile, over on the west coast, smoking is far and away the most common form of consumption for patients. By limiting the use of MMJ, New York established itself as one of the most restrictive medical marijuana states in the country. This needs to change and change fast if they’re hoping to consider themselves a forward-thinking, progressive home for MMJ.
2. Allow More Registered Organizations
Advocates for MMJ recently scored a big win when they got the qualifying treatment ‘chronic pain’ added to the New York bill. This crucial clause, which opens up the benefits of MMJ to a whole range of patients, was absent from the initial proposal.
The trouble is, the 2014 bill only contains provision for five Registered Organizations (ROs), which the state licenses to produce and distribute medical marijuana. Each RO can only operate a maximum of four dispensaries each, leaving a total of twenty dispensaries serving the entire state of New York.
With more patients signing up thanks to the ‘chronic pain’ addition, this startlingly limited number of dispensaries simply won’t be enough to cover all patients in the state. In stark contrast, California has no limit on the amount of dispensaries; New York should certainly look to the west coast for inspiration on this one.
3. Take the Power Away From the Governor
Under the Compassionate Care Act of 2014, Governor Cuomo and by extension the senate, have the power to quash medical marijuana if they feel it’s being abused. With a Republican-leaning politician like Cuomo, this could happen at anytime, leaving MMJ patients in New York with a big old sword of Damocles hanging over them.
If it was voted in fairly, then the law belongs to the people; the power to take it away shouldn’t be in the hands of one man. Instead of this regressive clause, both Republicans and Democrats should look to compromise and keep in mind the best interests of the people.
Since last November, when California followed Colorado’s lead and legalized recreational marijuana, the debate has been all about the legality of marijuana in general; having New York all paranoid about medical marijuana, which has been embraced by 29 states and proven to be effective for sufferers of a whole range of conditions, seems extremely regressive and archaic.