gov cuomo

gov cuomo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made history Wednesday when he announced his executive order to partially legalize medicinal marijuana in the Empire State.

Although marijuana legalization groups say his proposal to allow 20 state hospitals to give patients the drug is a step in the right direction for medicinal use, they say the road to full decriminalization of the substance is still long and filled with roadblocks.

"There are a lot of questions on how this will work," said Gabriel Sayegh, the state director for the nonprofit group the Drug Policy Alliance.

The specifics of the plan, including which hospitals will take part in the program and the requirements that patients must meet, are still being worked out.

Sayegh, whose group has been lobbying Albany to join Connecticut and New Jersey in legalizing medicinal cannabis, said the governor's move will likely push the state Senate to back legislation that would expand medicinal marijuana.

Several bills that would create a more comprehensive medical marijuana program, including ones introduced by state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, passed in the Assembly didn't get far in the next governing body.

Gottfried, whose current medical marijuana bill has 59 co-sponsors in the Assembly, said he is confident that Cuomo's changed attitude toward medicinal cannabis will prompt the Senate to get with the times.

"It is now very difficult for anyone to dispute the idea that New York should recognize the medical value of marijuana for many patients. I think the governor has really advanced that principle dramatically," he said.

Gottfried acknowledged that adding the full decriminalization of marijuana to the medical cannabis legislation will complicate things and make it harder to pass. Sayegh said Cuomo's recent comments that he was backing down on decriminalizing pot possession for small amounts, show that the overall legalization issue is still going to be a fight.

However, he noted that the public could turn the tide.

A CNN poll this week found that 55% Americans approve legalizing marijuana. New Yorkers were also mixed when it came to loosening the laws but when asked about it for medicinal purposes, some were more lenient.

"I mean, people can buy vodka, right? And it really helps people with medical problems manage the pain," said Doris Sovaci, 66, of Far Rockaway.

Still, there were some that were on the fence.

"I'm down with it if it's for a good cause, not just the streets," said Rene Mejia, 27, a shoe salesman from Inwood.

In time, Sayegh predicted, more New Yorkers and elected officials will agree that the benefits of legalizing pot will outweigh the concerns.

"The future is looking good, but we have to work for it," Sayegh said.

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