When compared to many of the states in America, New York appears to be progressive in its approach to legalized cannabis. The Empire state has adopted a limited yet real medical cannabis program that offers aid to many people fighting some of the most debilitating medical conditions imaginable.
The Bill: The Compassionate Care Act
Upon closer examination, however, New York is not as progressive as it appears: The state lags behind several smaller, less populous states in that it does not yet allow for the legal cultivation, distribution, and use of recreational cannabis.
And if the current political dynamics persist, the state’s citizens are still a long way away from realizing full cannabis legalization in the near future.
New York first passed medical cannabis reform in 2014 following a lengthy debate within the state Senate, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
The measure allows for a limited medical regime in which patients diagnosed with one on a list of debilitating or life-threatening illnesses, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, among others, may use a non-smokable form of medical cannabis.
New York’s medical cannabis patients are not allowed to cultivate their own plants. Instead, they are allotted their medicine in 30-day supplies from a list of approved state-monitored dispensaries.
Why is the New York program so limited?
While New York state has effectively decriminalized the use of recreational cannabis, individuals possessing 25 grams or less on their first offense may receive a maximum fine of $100, observers are left wondering why the state does not yet allow for the substance’s full and legal use.
The answer lies in what is essentially the best and worst answer that there can be these days: politics.
For starters, opposition to full legalization is high in the state Legislature, in both the State Assembly and the State Senate. One state senator, in particular, Sen. Catharine Young, the head of the state Senate Finance Committee, remains a key opponent to a proposal that would otherwise show some promise.
According to observers of state politics, the stasis on the issue should come as no surprise.
It takes forever to move anything in the New York Legislature. Medical marijuana was first introduced back in the ‘90s, it started passing the Assembly sometime maybe five years later, and then finally passed the Senate for the first time last year in a much modified form. And I think that you will see a similar path with [recreational legalization.]
Another problem is that New York does not have the same options available to other states that have legalized recreational cannabis. The four states that have legalized the substance, Alaska, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, plus the District of Columbia, all passed legalization measures via ballot initiatives, an option that is not available to New Yorkers.
That means that the only option for cannabis activists is to go through the state legislature.