Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature on a bill legalizing limited use of medical marijuana in New York capped a campaign by lawmakers that wasn’t given much of a chance of succeeding at the start of this year’s legislative session.
The bill was sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who had pushed for legalization since 1997, and fellow Democrat, Sen. Diane Savino, who was a force getting it passed in her chamber.
This was there take during a question-and-answer interview soon after the bill passed last month.
Were you surprised when you got the call from the governor’s office late in the session that he was ready to discuss legalizing medical marijuana?
Gottfried: Yes, at that point in the year we had pretty much concluded that we would pass the bill in both houses and we’d spend the summer negotiating whether he would sign the bill. By early June, I don’t think Sen. Savino or I imagined we would get a phone call from the governor’s office
Savino: Not really, it was clear by then that we had the votes and the bill would pass. I have always maintained that I wanted the governor’s involvement.
The initial bill was a lot broader. What was lost in the negotiations?
Gottfried: Three things. One is that the list of serious (illnesses) in the bill got shorter, several conditions fell out, although the bill does give the health commissioner the authority to add conditions. I would have preferred a more open list of conditions. Second, exclusion of smoking medical marijuana and there are several reasons why smoking should be available. I also think it is unnecessary to require that the producers and the sellers be part of one company. I really can’t think of any area of business in this country where we have a requirement like that. Usually our anti-trust laws try to break up what they call vertical integration and this bill, for reasons I can’t understand, require vertical integration.
Savino: The size of the initial program is smaller, and other than the outright restriction on smoking, I feel most of the original bill is accounted for.
Has the rhetoric around the drug evolved at all?
Gottfried: Public attitudes have certainly come a long way … I first introduced the bill in 1997. For the first few years I didn’t even put the bill on the agenda for the health committee meetings as chairman because I knew it would not win enough votes. Public opinion gradually got stronger and stronger for the legislation.
Savino: It remains a fact that as a society we have been socialized to view marijuana as a negative. That view has complicated an already complicated public policy. Only time will change that.
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