New York
Last Update: April 9, 2014

Comprehensive medical marijuana bill gains momentum, while Gov. Cuomo proposes unworkable plan 

Until this January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo opposed medical marijuana. While he’s finally joined the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers who believe marijuana should be available to the seriously ill, his plan is unworkable. The governor’s proposal would reportedly revive a restrictive 1980 medical marijuana law that would allow some hospitals in New York to implement the limited use of marijuana for patients in sense- or life-threatening situations.

Unlike the medical marijuana bill sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Senator Diane Savino, Gov. Cuomo’s proposal would not create an effective program. 


The 1980 law only allows patients to access marijuana from a limited number of hospitals, which would dispense marijuana that was either obtained from a federally approved source or that is illegal to dispense under federal law. But the federal government has refused to provide marijuana even to some short-term FDA-approved studies, and there is no reason to think it will approve marijuana for longer-term patient access. Meanwhile, hospitals will not break federal law by distributing unapproved marijuana.

Fortunately, a growing number of Senators are supportive of an effective medical marijuana program, including Republican Sens. Mark Grisanti (R, IP - Buffalo), George Maziarz (R - Newfane), Joe Robach (R, C, IP – Rochester), and Tom O’Mara (R, C – Big Flats, Elmira). 

Please email your legislators today and urge them to support Assemblyman Gottfried and Senator Savino’s medical marijuana bill. Then, ask Gov. Cuomo to work with the legislature to enact comprehensive medical marijuana reform. 

Gov. Cuomo Abandons Push to Reform Marijuana Penalties

In addition to failing to propose a real solution for medical marijuana patients, Gov. Cuomo has abandoned his push for more just marijuana penalties. Gov. Cuomo recently announced he will cease his push to replace jail time with a civil fine for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In recent years, the “public view” exception to New York’s 1977 decriminalization law has been abused by police officers. New York City police have told tens of thousands of people, mostly young people of color, to empty their pockets — thus making them criminals once their marijuana was in public view. That might finally change this year, as the Assembly voted May 29 to approve a bill that would close this loophole, but the bill (A6716) did not advance in the Senate. Unlawful arrests of individuals for the possession of small amounts of marijuana have continued, despite Gov. Cuomo’s claim that the recent declaration of some stop-and-frisk searches as unconstitutional eliminates the need for comprehensive decriminalization reform in New York.

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Are you a patient?

If you are supportive and are a medical professional, a seriously ill patient who might benefit from medical marijuana, a law enforcement official, a clergy member, or a member of the legal community, or you know someone else that is, please email to see how you can be of special help. Please include your address or nine-digit ZIP code.

New York’s weak "decrim" law 

New York is one of the 14 states that penalize first-offense possession of a modest amount of marijuana with a fine instead of possible jail time (marijuana possession is legal in two other states and possession in one's home is allowed under Alaska's constitution). First-offense possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is punishable by a $100 civil citation, although first-offense possession of between 25 grams and two ounces carries a $500 fine and up to three months in jail.

As was mentioned earlier, law enforcement have been able to exploit a loophole in the decriminalization law by getting an arrestee to expose his or her marijuana as "open to public view," which converts the conduct into an offense for which individuals can be arrested. This has resulted in New York having the second highest per capita marijuana arrest rate in the U.S., at almost 93,000 people per year. What’s more, these arrests have been racially disproportionate — a report by the ACLU found that in 2010, blacks were 4.52 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana in New York. The Drug Policy Alliance and other allies have campaigned to fix this abuse, and in September 2011, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued a memo to police not to arrest people for possession that is not in public view. Unfortunately, arrests have continued.

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