By PHIL NOBILE
While Colorado residents began the use of the drug for personal and private consumption, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, announced during his Jan. 8 State of the State address a program for the upcoming year to make medical marijuana legal in New York.
“Research suggests that medical marijuana can help manage the pain and treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses,” Cuomo said. “We have to make New York healthier.”
In addition to Colorado, marijuana is legal for recreational use in Washington and legal for medical use in 20 states. It has become a hot topic for politicians in 2014. Though possession and sale of the drug is still illegal by federal standards, marijuana legalization is more widespread and accepted than ever.
“I feel if it helps someone, why not,” said Ron Lanza, 70, of Mamaroneck. “So many other states are doing it, so they’ll just go there to get it anyway.”
Cuomo has not yet take measures to fully legalize medical marijuana, saying a program will first be enacted to study the medicinal effectiveness of the drug.
“We’ll establish a program allowing up to 20 hospitals to prescribe medical marijuana, and we will monitor the program to evaluate the effectiveness and the feasibility of a medical marijuana system,” he said.
The governor’s office said that hospitals have not yet been officially selected for the program.
The governor has yet to explain how the program will work specifically, or if it will lead to full medical legalization statewide within the year. According to his 2014 agenda, Cuomo will execute the program under the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act of 1980. The law allows research on banned substances pending required licenses.
“This program will allow qualified eligible participants to seek relief for their symptoms in a safe and legal manner, while also evaluating the effectiveness and feasibility of a medical marijuana system. Its findings will be used to inform future policy,” the agenda reads.
The initiative has become a political talking point particularly in Westchester County for its County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, as he weighs a bid for governor. Astorino, who is rumored to be the frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination against Cuomo for the Nov. 4, 2014, election, is against the planned program from both the substance itself and the method Cuomo passed through the initiative, according to William O’Reilly, an Astorino spokesperson.
“Medical marijuana continues to be opposed by the American Medical Association and other experts because it’s addictive, alternatives are available, and it has led to full or virtual legalization in other states,” O’Reilly said. “County Executive Astorino is concerned about both the substance and process of this policy and urges Gov. Cuomo to involve the [New York] State Legislature in this discussion. Fly-by-night implementation on a matter of such importance is not the responsible course for New York.”
According to a CNN/ORC poll taken last month, support for marijuana legalization outright is more than 55 percent nationwide‑a major increase from 16 percent in 1987, and up 43 percent from just two years ago. As for New York, a May 2013 Siena College poll found 82 percent of New Yorkers think marijuana should be legal for the seriously injured or terminally ill.
Support for marijuana isn’t as ubiquitous as the numbers suggest, however.
Marie Holden, 78, of Rye acknowledged the medical benefits, but still opposed the marijuana movement as a whole.
“I feel bad for those who are ill, but I don’t know how you would rectify it for just medicinal usage,” Holden said. “It will lead to wider usage.”
A phone call to Westchester Medical Center seeking comment was not returned as of press time.