By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY - State lawmakers are renewing a push to legalize medical marijuana and are changing their proposal in hopes of making it more palatable to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature.
The Democratic-led Assembly has repeatedly passed the legalization of medical marijuana, but it hasn't received enough support in the Senate. Cuomo has also expressed concern about the measure, but said in July 2011 that he was studying the issue.
A bill introduced this week proposes tougher oversight of medical marijuana sales in New York than had been previously sought. New York would join 18 states that have legalized medical marijuana.
"If the patient and physician agree that the patient's severe debilitating or life-threatening condition should be treated with medical marijuana, the government should not stand in the way," Assembly Health Committee chairman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, the bill's sponsor, said in a statement. "It is cruel to deny treatment to patients who are suffering or to turn them into criminals."
The measure is being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island. She is a member of the five-person Independent Democratic Conference, which shares power with Senate Republicans.
The bill would allow medical use of marijuana under a doctor's care for patients with cancer or severe health problems.
The proposal would require a practitioner to be licensed in prescribing medical marijuana, and patients who receive marijuana prescriptions would need to register with the state Health Department. Prescriptions would be registered with the state's I-STOP monitoring system, which was set up last year to crack down on prescription-drug abuse.
The Health Department would license registered organizations to produce and dispense medical marijuana and could include hospitals, private businesses or non-profit groups, according to the bill's sponsors. The state would set up "seed to sale" security and regulations of the drug, and a advisory board of health-care professionals would advise the state on the whole process.
An excise tax would be imposed on the manufacturing and sale of medical marijuana, and half of the revenue would go to the locality where the marijuana is produced or sold, the bill said.
The bill comes at a time when there's debate at the Capitol over marijuana use.
Democrats and Cuomo are pushing for the decriminalization of a small amount of marijuana in New York City to combat arrests of young people on less serious drug possession, but the Senate hasn't backed the measure.