A bill that would legalize the use of medical marijuana in New York state passed the General Assembly Wednesday night on a 92-52 vote, but now the Republican-dominated Senate is balking. Although Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) sounded agreeable at a Wednesday morning news conference, just hours later he was criticizing the bill as unworkable and vowing to introduce competing legislation.
With the clock ticking toward adjournment of the legislature next week, the move could kill the legislation this year. Even if the Senate passed its own bill, there is little time left reconcile differences, and the lawmakers face other pressing matters.
Sponsored by Rep. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), who has fought for a decade to advance it, the bill, A04867, would allow patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, and other severe illnesses or their designated caregivers to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of usable marijuana and up to 12 plants. Patients must be certified annually by a physician and register with the state Health Department.
Gov. Elliot Spitzer (D), who last year had opposed medical marijuana, signaled this week that he was willing to sign a carefully crafted bill, but any elation on the part of the bill's proponents, which include the Marijuana Policy Project, was tempered by Sen. Bruno's contradictory pronouncements Wednesday.
During a morning news conference, Bruno said a colleague would introduce a companion bill this week and predicted "the chances are better than not that it will go to the governor." But by that afternoon, Bruno had changed his tune. The Assembly bill is, he said, "too broad and we think it just lets too many things happen that may be inappropriate... We're going to do our own bill."
The Empire State is potentially one vote away from enacting a medical marijuana law, but the Republican Senate leadership appears determined to use a procedural trick to derail it.