While it will be at least two months before the majority of New York medical marijuana patients have access to medicine, those who qualify as critically ill will now be able to receive it sooner. Governor Andrew Cuomo approved two bills establishing an “emergency medical marijuana” program in the Empire State. This program permits the Department of Health to accelerate the accessibility of medical cannabis products to the states’ critically ill patients.
Now, in cases where delaying the use of cannabis may pose serious health risks and patients suffering from progressive or degenerative conditions will be able to obtain to a state license granting them immediate access to medical marijuana before the state’s medical cannabis program officially launches in 2016. Governor Cuomo, included a statement with his signature approving the emergency program,
“I deeply sympathized with New Yorkers suffering from serious illness, and I appreciate that medical marijuana may alleviate their chronic pain and debilitating symptoms.”
The Health Department will now be permitted to register additional medical cannabis producers who may be able to provide products more quickly or “as soon as practicable.” The programs’ partial goal will be to give preference to those already operating in other legal states that may be able to provide medical cannabis products “in a more expeditious manner.”
While the approval of the emergency program is a great news for many, it is bittersweet for at least one New York family. Sarah Newton and her husband lost their daughter Olivia, while waiting for the program to be implemented so that they could treat her with legal medical marijuana.
“We’re elated that this has passed and at the same time we’re heartbroken, we’re absolutely heartbroken,”
Newton said, explaining that she wishes action could have been taken sooner.
Today, New Yorkers seem to be getting and staying higher than the city skyscrapers that tower over them. With the decriminalization of low-level cannabis possession last November, the city has seen a steady increase in public cannabis consumption, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing.
Mayor de Blasio introduced a new policy to the New York police department, effective Nov. 14 of last year, stating that a person possessing 25 grams of cannabis or less shall only receive a ticket and monetary fine instead of being arrested — as long as users have proper ID and no outstanding warrants. This has changed the way city goers view public smoking. However, this is not to be confused with complete legalization, and its important to reiterate that New Yorkers can still most definitely be cuffed for smoking joints in public. The decision to make an arrest or issue a citation is completely up to the discretion of the officer on the scene.
“If you’re smoking (marijuana) in public, we will potentially arrest you,”
said police commissioner, Bill Bratton.
With the new policies regarding decriminalization going into effect, there is something that seems to be lost in translation. Leisurely smoking in the city is reportedly on the rise and many people are concerned about the effects it will have on those uncomfortable with marijuana. However, cannabis advocates claim there is no harm being brought to others and smoking marijuana is just another everyday activity.
“We’re not acting out. We’re just standing here smoking our joint, and if anybody comes up to us and happens to be an undercover cop or something, they can easily just tell us, ‘Hey you’ve got to put that out.’ It’s very easygoing,”
said an anonymous street side toker.
In September of 2014, Senator Liz Kreuger (D-Manhattan) announced plans to introduce legislation in 2015 that would legalize, regulate and tax a retail marijuana market in New York. Three months later, in December, Senator Krueger hosted a public forum for her Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) to lead and encourage open discussion of the potential fiscal, economic, law and health benefits and risks that may arise from legalization.
The bill (1747) has now, officially, been filed. The four co-sponsors of the bill are Senator Martin Dilan, Senator Brad Hoylman, Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Senator Gustavo Rivera.
Aside from the potential fiscal and economic benefits, Senator Kreuger has cited the gross racial disparity in marijuana related arrests as motivation for sponsoring this legalization measure. She elaborated in a released statement, “Prohibition of marijuana is a policy that just hasn’t worked, no matter how you look at it, and it’s time to have an honest conversation about what we should do next. The illegal marijuana economy is alive and well, and our unjust laws are branding nonviolent New Yorkers, especially young adults, as criminals, creating a vicious cycle that ruins lives and needlessly wastes taxpayer dollars. Worst of all, this system has resulted in a civil rights disaster: African Americans are dramatically more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites, despite similar rates of marijuana use among both groups.”
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act establishes the State Liquor Authority as the regulatory body for the program, and regulates marijuana in the same manner as alcohol, except that the minimum age for legal possession is 18 instead of 21. However, a person must be 21 to make a legal purchase.
If MRTA is approved by legislators, the State Liquor Authority would be permitted to license cannabis cultivators, producers, transporters and retailers. It also allows for home cultivation of up to 6 plants. Under this amendment, individual counties will be allowed to decide whether dispensaries will be permitted to operate. This bill also sets up a tax structure which allows localities to charge sales tax on retail cannabis sales. A portion of the state tax revenue collected will go towards re-entry and substance abuse programs, job training programs for low-income households, and to communites with high-unemployment rates.
Sen. Krueger sponsored and filed a similar bill last session, but it did receive enough support.
Perhaps this session will be different considering how the views of so many Americans have been influenced by two more states legalizing recreational marijuana last election day. The opinions of many New Yorkers have also possibly been influenced by Mayor DeBlasio’s orders for the The New York City police department to halt the practice of “buy and bust” marijuana arrests, and through the roll-out of the state’s first set of medical marijuana rules. True cannabis education is spreading rapidly across the nation, and perhaps New York lawmakers have caught on.
photo credit: Liz Krueger Facebook