State Senate passes medical marijuana bill

Jun 20, 2014

Updated, 3:50 p.m.:

After a lengthy debate of several hours, the medical marijuana bill was approved in the state Senate, and now goes to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has said he'll sign it. 

Sponsor Sen. Diane Savino says she’s "gratified" by the larger than expected number of yes votes, including some surprise votes from traditionally conservative senators.

Savino says she hopes the wide support can serve to make the vote in New York, the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana, a tipping point for the federal government to change its policies against the drug.

“We are a watershed state,” said Savino. "As New York goes, so goes the nation.”

Savino also addressed concerns that the measure has too many restrictions -  the smoking of the drug is prohibited - and will take too long, 18 months, to implement.

She says if it were up to her, she’d start the program tomorrow, but says the time is needed to do it right.

Health committee chair Sen. Kemp Hannon, was among those voting no. He cited concerns over lack of medical evidence on the effectiveness of marijuana treatments, and no FDA approval.

He says heath department bureaucrats are going to make too many unqualified decisions and will take too long.

“Give me a break,” Hannon said. “We’re not helping the people who came to ask us for help."

Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), says the law stands in contradiction to bills passed earlier in the week by the legislature cracking down on heroin addiction.

“This is the wrong message,” DeFrancisco said. “Yesterday or the day before we passed 11 bills because of this tragic heroin condition."

Those who voted in favor, agree the bill is flawed, but they say many people are suffering from debilitating diseases, and they don’t want to say no to something that could help them.

Sen. Liz Krueger represents portions of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, home to some of the nation’s top cancer hospitals.

"I’m assuming there are a decent number of doctors in this state who secretly whisper, ‘you might try this if you can get some.'" Krueger said.

Even advocates say the law has problems, but say they will work to improve it.