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Diane Savino, medical marijuana bill sponsor, trades insults with Cuomo

Sen. Diane Savino discusses the medical marijuana bill

Sen. Diane Savino discusses the medical marijuana bill May 20, 2014, during a hearing at the Capitol in Albany. Credit: Albany Times Union / Cindy Schultz

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is putting unreasonable demands on a medical marijuana proposal with little time remaining in the legislative session, a key senator said Monday.

Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), the sponsor of a bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, and the Democratic governor traded small insults on the issue as the session moved into its final week. Cuomo countered that legislators hadn't tackled medical marijuana in a thoughtful way and contended their proposal could "wreak havoc."

Savino said the governor's criticisms were "disingenuous" and "somewhat ridiculous," and activists questioned whether the governor's objections were an attempt to kill the legislation.

The jockeying occurred as lawmakers intensified efforts to get bills before adjourning for the summer and moving on to their re-election campaigns. Though they are slated to leave Thursday, they reported no real progress on key issues, including combating the rise of heroin or delaying a new teacher-evaluation system. The push to delay seems all but dead.

As part of last-minute negotiations on medical marijuana, Cuomo proposed limiting pot dispensaries to just four across New York and authorizing them for just a five-year period. Savino said such conditions would mean the medical marijuana industry likely never gets off the ground in the state.

"It would send a red flag to the marijuana industry in other states: Don't come to New York. We're closed for business," Savino told reporters.

Cuomo said of Savino's bill: "It's not necessarily the best program from a public safety, public health point of view," signaling to some that the governor wanted to take control of an issue that lawmakers have pushed aggressively this year.

Among other things, Cuomo said the bill authored by Savino and Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) allows one patient to accumulate too much pot per month.

"I'm not going to be part of a system that is just going to wreak havoc," Cuomo said. Later, he added that Savino is "not a health professional."

Savino said Gottfried has worked on the issue 18 years and she's worked on it "every day of the last two years.

"To suggest that we haven't approached this in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner, you know, I think is, uh, somewhat ridiculous," Savino said.

The Drug Policy Alliance, which has been lobbying to legalize medical marijuana, said "patients and families are alarmed by Cuomo's actions." The group said the governor's proposals include eliminating some eligible conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, AIDS/HIV and muscular dystrophy.

"Some of the concerns raised by the governor are already addressed in the legislation, and the bill sponsors have agreed to address even more, so why isn't the governor negotiating in good faith with the bill sponsors?" said Gabriel Sayegh, state director of the alliance.

With the deadline looming, lawmakers are trying to pass measures to renew red-light cameras for Nassau and Suffolk counties, enact a Water Quality Control Act for Long Island, and give Nassau and Suffolk one additional Family Court judge each.

They are also looking to find consensus on dozens of anti-heroin proposals, ranging from supplying schools with naloxone, to converting shuttered state prisons to drug-addiction treatment centers, to changing insurance laws to get addicts into inpatient treatment settings sooner than under current law -- the one proposal activists said would make the most immediate impact.

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