New York Moves Closer To Legalizing Medical Marijuana

New York state is moving closer and closer to legalizing medical marijuana.

Two Republican state senators from Western New York -- George Maziarz and Mark Grisanti -- broke from their GOP colleagues this week to announce that they would vote for the Compassionate Care Act, a bill that would legalize weed in the state for medical purposes.

State Sen. Diane Savino (D), sponsor of the measure, told HuffPost that she "easily" has enough votes to pass the bill now, even if not every one of those senators has publicly announced his or her support.

"To a great extent, my decision to support this legislation resulted from my conversations with the Conte family, who are constituents of mine," Grisanti said in a statement, referring to the family of 8-year-old Anna Conte, who has Dravet syndrome. The Conte family is considering moving to Colorado, where marijuana is legal, unless New York lifts the ban on medical cannabis.

"Anna's illness causes seizures of such regularity and severity that her illness is considered terminal," Grisanti said. "Marijuana could be the only drug to help her. It's time to put politics aside, and put people first."

(Read more about Anna's devastating story here.)

Grisanti and Maziarz may have also read the polls. A Quinnipiac survey released Monday found overwhelming support for legalizing medical marijuana in New York. Eighty-eight percent of New York voters said they'd support it, including a whopping 82 percent of Republicans.

Over the past few years, Savino and state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D) have repeatedly introduced legislation to legalize medical marijuana. The bills always passed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly but stalled in the state Senate. Now, Maziarz and Grisanti are the first Republican state senators to come out in support of the measure.

Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance said just one obstacle remains: whether the Senate leadership will bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

The co-leaders of the ruling Senate Majority Coalition have been divided on the legislation: Sen. Jeffrey Klein, an independent Democrat, has said he supports it, while Sen. Dean Skelos, a Republican, has opposed it.

"I would like to be able to say that I'm 100 percent confident," Sayegh told HuffPost of the chances of Klein and Skelos allowing a vote. "All I can say is that I'm hopeful."

Savino told HuffPost that she is confident the bill will be brought to the floor and that she has 40 votes to pass it. The bill would need only 32 yes votes.

Savino refused, however, to give any specific timeline for passing the measure and reiterated a statement she made last month that the "the bill will be ready when I let you know it’s ready." The "boring nuts and bolts" of passing legislation, she said, includes getting the bill out of committee first.

Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said he'd sign the bill if it passed the Assembly and Senate, he hasn't necessarily been supportive of the legislation. According to Savino, Cuomo wasn't confident that she and Gottfried could actually get the votes. "He told me, 'I don't think you can do it,' and I said, 'Watch me,'" Savino recalled.

Last month, Cuomo unveiled a limited medical marijuana program that did not require legislation. Under the governor's plan, medical pot is available at 20 hospitals for people suffering from specific illnesses. Savino has called the plan "unworkable" and expressed serious doubts that the federal government would allow it.



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