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ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is trying to kill a proposal to legalize medical marijuana by throwing out last-minute demands and delaying negotiations during the final days of the 2014 legislative session, advocates said Wednesday.
"He's stalling. He's stalling it out," said Missy Miller, an Atlantic Beach resident who traveled to Albany accompanied by her son, Oliver, 14, who has a severe form of epilepsy and relies on a wheelchair. She said she has used more than 20 medications to try to control the dozens of seizures he has per day and believes medical marijuana can help.
The governor, at a separate news conference, said he still has strong concerns about a proposed medical marijuana bill and added that he's "less pliable" on this issue because there is a "very high downside" to creating a flawed system.
"It's very hard to put the genie back in the bottle if you do it wrong," Cuomo said, adding that negotiations continue.
Advocates have been traveling to Albany for months to generate support for medical marijuana. They said the issue has majority support in the State Legislature. At a vocal State Capitol rally Wednesday, they said Cuomo, a Democrat who is up for re-election, waited until the last week of the session to specify his objections in order to run out the legislative clock and postpone action on the issue this year.
The legislature is set to adjourn for the year Thursday, although it could extend until Friday.
"He had all the time in the world to say what his concerns are," Miller said of Cuomo. "Months and months, we've been up here, lobbying and begging him to discuss this with us."
Miller said the governor is trying to put the blame on the legislature, especially Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), for not allowing a vote in the Senate yet. She said the governor doesn't want the legislature to pass a bill so that he doesn't have to decide to sign or veto it.
"He's trying to put it all on Senator Skelos, so Senator Skelos looks like the bad guy," Miller said of Cuomo, adding, "and it's an election year."
On Monday, Cuomo said legislators hadn't tackled medical marijuana in a thoughtful way and contended their proposal could "wreak havoc." He wants to limit the number of dispensaries statewide to four (instead of 20), authorize the program for just five years (instead of making it open-ended) and shorten the list of conditions that would qualify for treatment.
Earlier this year, Cuomo announced the state Health Department would begin a medical marijuana research program that could make marijuana products available to patients with certain conditions. Activists said that plan was too limited and too cumbersome to help many patients.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), a medical marijuana supporter, said he had "no reason" to believe the governor was negotiating in bad faith.
But Miller wasn't the only activist pointing at the governor.
"Why is the governor muddying the waters and making all these last-minute demands?" said Donna Romano of Syracuse.
Holly Anderson, executive director of the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, said a Cuomo administration representative told her "we might see legislation in two to three years." She said those with cancer, multiple sclerosis and other diseases can't wait that long.
Noting that the Democrat-led Assembly historically supports medical marijuana and that some believe a majority of the 63-seat Senate is in favor, Anderson said: "It would be the governor who could actually stop this from happening."