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Talks under way on medical marijuana
ALBANY -- The Cuomo administration, state Assembly and Senate now are involved in negotiations over proposals to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, officials said Thursday, though Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo himself expressed strong reservations.
Notwithstanding the governor's doubts, the talks signal the issue is moving. Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), sponsor of the medical-marijuana bill, noted that a key Senate committee is no longer bottling up her proposal and said she's confident the chamber will vote on it before it adjourns next Thursday.
"It's moving," Savino told reporters. "We will have a final product in time for the end of this legislative session."
The Democrat-dominated state Assembly routinely has approved medical marijuana proposals only to see them die in the now politically split Senate. But the issue has taken on new momentum this year -- especially as more than 20 other states have approved it.
Cuomo, once a clear opponent, has continued to soften his stance on medical marijuana. Earlier this year promised to launch a research program. He said he preferred that approach to a more expansive proposal backed by many legislators.
He has said he could approve Savino's bill if it had the proper controls. Thursday, he said he still has questions.
"We have serious questions about the bill as put forth, but we're talking about it," Cuomo said in a radio interview. "You're talking about a system that will grow, sell, distribute marijuana, and this raises a lot of questions, makes law enforcement very nervous."
Earlier this week, Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) said he wouldn't let the bill out of the Finance Committee, which he leads. Thursday, Savino said the bill was transferred to the Rules Committee, bypassing DeFrancisco and setting the stage for a possible vote next week.
Savino has amended her bill more than once to accommodate some of her colleagues. Among other things, her proposal would prohibit anyone younger than 21 from receiving medical marijuana in cigarette form and ban the marketing of edible marijuana in candy forms that could entice children. She said Cuomo's office has raised issues, too, though she didn't elaborate.
"Concerns have been raised by the governor's office," she said. "We believe some of them are answerable in the bill itself and we're open to input from the governor. I've said from the beginning, the governor's input has been critical to this because at the end of the day, it's his signature that's going to make for the tightest, most regulated medical marijuana program in the country."