Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has reversed his long-standing opposition to legalizing marijuana. Cuomo is bypassing the legislature, where the Senate has blocked legalizing medical marijuana, and plans to use an executive action that would allow limited use marijuana for patients with cancer, glaucoma, or other diseases that the New York State Department of Health deems appropriate for the drug. In 2013 Cuomo said he backed the decriminalization of open view possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana, but said he was opposed to medical marijuana.
The avenue Cuomo plans to take is to use a provision in a law called the Antonio G. Olivieri Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Program, which allows for the use of controlled substances for “cancer patients, glaucoma patients, and patients afflicted with other diseases as such diseases are approved by the commissioner.”
Olivieri, a New York City councilman and state assemblyman, died in 1980 at age 39 from a brain tumor and used marijuana to help him with chemotherapy.
Another reason Cuomo may have shifted his position is to boost the economy of his state; marijuana became legal in Colorado on January 1, and thousands of eager customers have trekked there to buy it. The prospective plan of Cuomo’s is stricter than those in Colorado or California, where medical marijuana can be obtained for something as simple as a backache; 20 hospitals in New Yorl will be able to prescribe marijuana.
Up until now, New York was one of the nation’s harshest states for users or dealers of drugs. But Cuomo may be feeling the heat from New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie, following legalization of medical marijuana by his predecessor, Gov. John Corzine, set restrictions such limiting its strength, banning delivery of marijuana to homes, and making sure patients had tried every other alternative.
Cuomo, seeking reelection in 2014, has been moving hard to the left for the last two years; in 2011, he pushed for same-sex marriage; in 2012, he supported legislation for harsh gun-control laws, including banning assault weapons. He has tried to weaken laws against abortion, albeit unsuccessfully.
In taking the matter into his own hands, the governor is relying on a provision in the public health law known as the Antonio G. Olivieri Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Program. It allows for the use of controlled substances for “cancer patients, glaucoma patients, and patients afflicted with other diseases as such diseases are approved by the commissioner.”
Because state and federal laws prohibit growing marijuana, New York may have to buy it from the federal government or law enforcement agencies.