ALBANY – The leader of the Assembly believes efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes appears dead for the rest of the 2014 session because of opposition in the State Senate.
“I don’t think it has a future in this session,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, said Monday in a brief interview with reporters at the Capitol.
But advocates of legalizing marijuana for certain medical patients dismissed Silver’s comments and said that the issue is actually gaining momentum in the Senate.
“I wasn’t aware that Shelly got elected to the Senate,” said Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat who is a member of the independent Democratic group that runs the Senate with Republicans in a coalition.
“I’m curious as to why the speaker of the Assembly would feel the need to comment on the process in the Senate,” added Savino, who is the sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
Savino says she has enough votes, with Republicans such as Western New York Republican Sens. Mark Grisanti and George Maziarz, to get the measure passed.
“For me, there’s nothing changed,” Savino said.
The Senate is on vacation until April 23, and Savino said the next push will be to get the measure reported out of the Senate Health Committee when lawmakers return. The Assembly has passed a medical marijuana bill for years; the 2014 session ends in mid-June.
The issue fell off the table during recently concluded state budget talks. The comments by Silver came as a group of advocates was meeting in Albany on Monday to strategize for an end-of-session push for the bill. They have meetings planned today with Assembly members and Senate aides.
Critics, including some in the medical community, have pushed back and sounded worries about New York taking the path of 20 states and the District of Columbia by legalizing marijuana for certain medical conditions. Some critics say it could lead to the eventual legalization of marijuana for recreational use, a step many of the bill’s sponsors in New York say they oppose.
Told of Silver’s remarks, Wendy Conte, an Orchard Park resident pushing for the bill said: “That’s news to us. Not by a long shot.”
Conte’s 8-year-old daughter has severe seizures, numbering into the hundreds per day, that some physicians have said could get relief by the use of medical marijuana in a liquid form with little or none of the compound in the drug that gets people high. That strain is available in Colorado and California. Some New Yorkers, according to a recent Buffalo News article, have already moved to Colorado to get their children access to the treatment. Conte recently became an official resident of Colorado and plans to move there if New York does not legalize medical marijuana.
“These kids’ lives are at stake. It’s not a joke anymore,” Conte said.
Some lawmakers are pushing legislation to allow medical marijuana in a liquid – or, more precisely, oil-based form – such as the product Conte and other parents have seen produced in Colorado. That legislation would ban the smoking of marijuana for medical purposes.
But Conte said any effort to split apart the advocates of the measure will not work. The coalition of supporters includes parents of children with severe seizures who want the liquid form of the drug to people suffering from cancer, AIDS and other illnesses and diseases who believe smoking marijuana can help problems with everything from chronic pain to loss of appetite from chemotherapy.
“It’s not fair to leave anybody out,” Conte said during an interview as she sat with other members of her coalition that included people with AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis. “It has to be comprehensive. It can’t be narrowed by any means.”
If legislation is not passed, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has vowed to go ahead with a 1980 law that legalized marijuana for certain medical conditions. Critics have said that program is too limited – offered at a maximum of 20 hospitals – and there won’t be enough of the drug to meet needs. One provision of the 1980 law permits the state to obtain marijuana for medicinal purposes from police drug raids; the State Police in 1980 warned of the dangers of using such marijuana without knowing anything about where and how it was grown.
Later in the evening Monday, Silver said the Assembly first passed a medical marijuana bill in 2007 and would do so again this year if the Senate acts before the session ends.