Apparently, New York is one of the most liberal states in the country. When it comes to marijuana legalization, however, state residents are often wondering if it is closer to the South. Even though medical use was finally legalized last year the statute only came into effect at the beginning of this year. Possession of marijuana for personal use has still not been even decriminalized, and access for patients remains difficult.
New York’s Medical Program
New York’s medical program is one of the most restrictive in the country – modelled not on Colorado but Minnesota. There is only one medical marijuana dispensary in the Big Apple – on 14th Street near the 3rd Avenue subway system.
Patients are subjected to one of the most restrictive programs in the country.
- They may not buy a smokable or edible pot of any kind.
- Smoking or growing marijuana – for any purpose – remains illegal.
- Only those suffering from a handful of serious conditions qualify for a prescription.
- In January, there were only 71 registered patients in the entire state.
- New York’s existing medical law only allows for 20 dispensaries statewide – or one every 2,700 miles.
That said, this fall, after significant pressure from just about everywhere, the state began to loosen up – a bit. New reforms introduced this fall
- Allow nurse practitioners to dispense the drug.
- The list of qualifying conditions was expanded.
- Home delivery was finally authorized.
Why Such Slow Progress?
Since the beginning of the modern age of pot reform, legalization advocates in the state have run up against a Governor who is staunchly anti-pot.
It has been Andrew Cuomo’s interference in the process, out of step with the majority of his constituents, which has consistently watered down and stymied reform. In fact, he was only pushed into doing something, despite a close to 30-year battle here to legalize use, when Florida’s governor finally stepped up to the plate two years ago to legalize CBD for medical use.
Last week, the country had their national election and up to 9 more states will have legalized the drug at the ballot box for either medical or recreational purposes. A new bill, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act has also been re-introduced in the Senate in Albany.
Senator Liz Krueger, the sponsor of the bill and representative of the Eastern side of Manhattan, has tried this before. Two years ago, in fact, only to be thwarted by Senate Leadership and the reliably anti-pot Cuomo.
How Things are Changing
However, times are not even what they were two years ago.
The rest of the nation has moved forward on further reform.
California, the nation’s largest state, is also on the cusp of changing the conversation once again, presumably if Prop 64 to legalize and regulate recreational use passes at the polls next week.
Further, the majority of voters in the state – 57% to be exact – now are in favour of full marijuana regulation. The benefits of doing so are hard to ignore. The state marijuana market could easily rival Colorado’s if it were allowed to flourish – bringing in at least $3 billion a year in revenue and close to $100 million in tax revenue. That could also mean the creation of close to 25,000 jobs.
Ending penalties for marijuana use and possession will also put an end to the discriminatory law enforcement policies that disproportionately impact both African American and Latino communities.
White people aged 18-25 are more likely to actually use the drug, yet minorities are four times more likely to get busted for possession.
New York Has the Key to Change
What worries reformers both in and outside the state the most about reform here is that Cannabis legalization in New York legislature has a huge impact on national issues – even on a state level.
Right now, just on the issue of marijuana reform, New York’s noted herb reform intransigence stands in stark contrast to what is about to happen on the West Coast.
How reform here will play into the ever-present if not looming question of additional reform in other states (most notably the South) not to mention federal rescheduling of the drug is one of the biggest issues behind the continued stalling on reform in the state.
That said, with more and more states moving not only into the medical use column, not to mention moving forward with full, regulated, recreational reform, New York can only hold out so long. And regardless of the success or failure of Krueger’s latest effort to revive a bill which would create a regulated recreational industry here, reform is coming to New York, no matter how much detractors slow it down.
Right now, it is merely a matter of time.