New York Governor Finally Supports Medical Marijuana Bill -- But Questions Remain

ALBANY, NY - JANUARY 08:  New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gives his fourth State of the State address on January 8, 2014
ALBANY, NY - JANUARY 08: New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gives his fourth State of the State address on January 8, 2014 in Albany, New York. Among other issues touched on at the afternoon speech in the state's capital was the legalization of medical marijuana, and New York's continued economic recovery. Cuomo has been discussed as a possible Democratic candidate for the 2016 presidential race. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

After years of sending mixed messages over a bill to legalize medical marijuana in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday that he's open to supporting the legislation if it's passed in the state Senate.

"If their piece of legislation, the legislation makes sense, then I would sign it because I support the overall effort," Cuomo told reporters Monday, according to The New York Daily News.

"If you don't do it right and controls aren't in place, it could be a problem," he said. "How you do it is everything in this case."

It's the most definitive statement the governor has made regarding the Compassionate Care Act, the bill that would legalize medical marijuana in New York.

Over the past year, advocates have grown frustrated with Cuomo's refusal to take a clear stand on the CCA, and with his insistence on pursuing more limited medical marijuana programs.

The governor's remarks Monday come amidst growing momentum for the CCA in Albany. The bill passed in the Assembly last month, and was passed by the Health Committee in the state Senate. The bill only needs to get out of the Senate finance committee and for the Senate's Republican leaders to allow the bill come to the floor for a vote.

Senator Diane Savino (D- Staten Island), who sponsored the CCA, has said she has 40 "yes" votes in the Senate, more than enough for the measure to pass. A handful of those "yes" votes are from Republicans.

Savino has worked for months to make the bill more palatable to her GOP colleagues in the Senate. Its latest incarnation limits medical marijuana use to relieve symptoms of 20 "serious, debilitating, life-threatening" chronic illnesses, according to The Daily News.

The Buffalo News reports that while psoriasis is no longer covered by the bill, it does cover cancer, HIV, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.

The bill would not allow younger patients to smoke the drug for medical purposes; instead, those under 21 would have to use alternative methods of ingesting cannabis, such as using oils.

The latest version of the CCA also sets a limit on the levels of THC, the high-inducing substance in marijuana, in oil-based medical marijuana products.

“I believe the current form of the bill is as good as it gets," Savino said Monday, according to State of Politics. "It is the tightest, most regulated piece of legislation that will effect the medical marijuana industry in this country."

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County) has yet to indicate whether he'd allow the bill to the floor for a vote, and The Poughkeepsie Journal reports Senate Finance Committee chairman John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) has said he won't let the bill out of his committee.

"The Savino bill will not come out of my committee, the Finance Committee," he declared. "You don't have any kind of reasonable research on the effects."

Although DeFrancisco's comments are seemingly a setback for the CCA, Senate leadership can circumvent DeFrancisco by bringing the bill straight to the Rules committee, which would then allow for it to be brought to a vote.

Savino said Monday that she's "very confident" the bill will come to a vote before the end of the legislative session on June 19.

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