By Tom Precious
NEWS ALBANY BUREAU CHIEF
ALBANY -- The sponsors of a bill legalizing medical marijuana made the midnight deadline to introduce a new version of the bill -- the fifth -- that bows to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on some of his ideas, but rejects a number of concerns he has publicly raised with the effort.
Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried amended their bill to, as Cuomo suggested, further limit the diseases or conditions for which the drug can be dispensed. Gone from the new bill is post-concussion syndrome, lupus and diabetes. But they keep intact the ability of patients to smoke the drug -- Cuomo wanted an oil-based or other liquid type form of the drug being available -- but the bill bans smoking in public places and, as previous versions, makes it illegal to dispense marijuana in a smoking form to anyone under age 21.
After Cuomo Monday characterized the lawmakers' bill as overly generous when it comes to how much marijuana could go to patients in a 30-day period, Savino and Gottfried, in their new bill version, reduced from two and one-half ounces to two ounces the amount of marijuana that a doctor can prescribe to a patient in a one-month period. There appears also to be some new maneuvering room by the state health department, which will draft the regulations to implement the bill if it is passed and signed into law.
Lawmakers also did not go along with Cuomo's call for a five-year sunset on the law. Savino and Gottfried both said that idea is unworkable and would serve to only keep private marijuana manufacturers from coming to New York to invest in the infrastructure to produce the drug.
The bill is now in the midst of a three-day aging process, meaning it will be live for a vote on Thursday, the scheduled end of session. If there is no deal between now and then by Cuomo and legislative leaders on a three-way deal, the key question becomes: will Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate co-leader Dean Skelos be willing to incur the governor's likely anger and let the bill out onto the floor for a vote? If it passes, that would put Cuomo, in an election year, in the position of possibly vetoing a bill that patients with cancer and AIDS have been lobbying to get passed and has attracted the backing of additional Republican lawmakers and the incumbent Democrat -- Eric Schneiderman -- and Republican challenger -- John Cahill -- for the state attorney general's post.
Some advocates are convinced Cuomo is doing his best to kill the effort, while the governor has maintained he is supportive of the idea but that there are law enforcement and other concerns to be addressed if the state is to begin the complex task of regulating a system of growing, transporting, and dispensing marijuana to potentially thousands of patients. Advocates say the way the new bill is crafted that New York would be the most heavily regulated of the 22 states, and the District of Columbia, that permit medical marijuana.
Sources said Savino and Gottfried held talks last night with the governor's office, but the bill they introduced before midnight cannot be called -- at this point anyway -- a three-way deal.