NY: Governor Cuomo Was “Obstacle” in Developing Effective Medical Marijuana Program

New York lawmakers got together with members of the business community in Manhattan over the weekend to discuss the potential of implementing a new, more effective medical marijuana law. Many are concerned that last-minute restrictions imposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo will cause more trouble than good in the grand scheme of the program.

During the conference, hosted by the International Cannabis Association, several legislators were quick to throw Governor Cuomo under the bus for sandbagging efforts to pass medical marijuana in New York. “The biggest obstacle to the passage of this bill as we moved along was, in fact, the Governor,” said State Senator Diane Savino, during a panel discussion. “Andrew Cuomo is a very progressive man on a whole lot of issues but he is no different than most people in the state of New York when it came to drug policy.”

The Senator argued that Cuomo was more concerned with the issue of decriminalization than he ever was about outlining an effective program for the seriously ill of New York. “He was not interested in medical marijuana,” said Savino, “and, in fact, told me so on more than one occasion… in some colorful ways.”

Savino and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, both sponsors of the Compassionate Care Act, explained to those in attendance that their bill has too many drawbacks in its current form to satisfy the greater good. Among their complaints: too much control falls in the hands of the executive branch; a lack of dispensaries, and the large investment for obtaining a license. “They’ve laid out a program that creates the industry but hinders it at the same time,” said Savino, adding that the Governor has never really supported medical marijuana for New York.

“We pushed him into it but he also gets to control the size of it,” Savino continued. “In his mind, he thinks that small is good because it’s a certain level of security and protection that would allow him to control it. What he needs to hear very clearly from people is that small is not the way to go because you shut out opportunity.”

It is for this reason that Savino and Gottfried believe it is important for the business community to express their opinion for how the state regulates its medical marijuana program. “I will tell you this: [Cuomo] has very little respect for members of the legislature,” said Savino. “He thinks we’re a bunch of idiots, all of us. He really does. He has tremendous respect for the business community. That’s his reputation. … He now needs to look at this industry as part in parcel of his economic development legacy.”

The progress of medical marijuana in New York, says Savino, now lies in the ability to persuade the health department to implement effective regulations over the course of the next 15 months. However, both lawmakers agree that one of the first steps should be to eliminate a portion of the law that mandates vertical integration, which requires every licensee maintain responsibility for the product from seed to sale – cultivation, testing and distribution. This practice does not take place in any other state.

“I can’t think of a single example in the American economy where we mandate vertical integration,” said Gottfried. “I can think of any number of industries where the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, in enforcement of the antitrust laws, have gone to great efforts to prohibit vertical integration in any number of industries. But the notion that the medical marijuana organizations must be vertically integrated… I can’t account for why one would want to do that in America.”

Lawmakers say the Compassionate Care Act has a wealth of other issues, including permitting only five licenses to produce 20 retail outlets, as well as giving the state health commissioner the authority to establish the price for medical marijuana. The governor also has the right to abandon the entire program if, at any point, he believes it has become a threat to public safety.

“But I think even as restrictive as it is, it will ultimately make life dramatically better and more tolerable… for tens of thousands of New Yorkers, which, for me, is a pretty good day’s work,” said Gottfried.

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