State Senate is sticking point for legalizing medical marijuana

Apr 28, 2014

State lawmakers go back to work in Albany this week as the second half of the legislative session gets underway. The debate over legalization of medical marijuana could become one of the high profile issues lawmakers tackle.

At this point the closest plan to legalizing medical marijuana in the state is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to use executive power to  allow doctors to prescribe it in 20 hospitals across the state to patients with certain conditions.

The Assembly is on board with broader legislation called the Compassionate Care Act that would legalize use of marijuana for any certified patients. The sticking point in getting that bill into law, continues to be the state Senate, run by a coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats.

In recent months, some Republicans have publicly come out in support of  legalization of medical marijuana. And some state lawmakers  say there are at least 40 votes in favor of it, more than enough to pass it.  

But state Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse} says that doesn’t mean it will ever come up for a vote.

“I doubt that it will, in my judgment, because in order for it to be put on the floor, since there is joint leadership, there has to be an agreement by the two leaders to put in on the floor for a vote, and that’s going to be subject to a debate in the conferences.”

Dean Skelos, who leads Republicans in the Senate, has opposed medical marijuana legislation in the past.

Recent polls show a vast  majority of New Yorkers support medical marijuana, and advocates continue to push for the law. DeFrancisco says he’s been feeling the pressure from constituents in recent public meetings, and says he would only support legislation that heavily regulates the substance, such as Cuomo's plan.

"A bill that I would like, would be a bill that requires a prescription of an approved drug and dispensed in a very restricted way, in a pharmacy or hospital or whatever that would be,” said DeFrancisco.  “I believe the people that tell me that have MS and other diseases, epilepsy, that it gives them relief. But there’s more than that when any drug has to be determined to be safe and regulated.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to be in session until the end of June.