ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Republican-led health committee of the New York Senate approved a medical marijuana bill on Tuesday, only the first of a series of hurdles but nonetheless a vote that shocked advocates into silent disbelief before they quickly erupted into cheers.
One Republican voted for the measure that passed 9-8. It now moves to the Republican-led finance committee, the next step before a vote in the Senate.
“This is step one, it’s a huge victory,” Staten Island Sen. Diane Savino, sponsor of the bill, said after receiving tearful hugs from advocates. “It’s historic for all of us, but now we go on to the next step. We are by no means at the end of the line yet.”
Advocates say recent changes to the Senate bill — dubbed the Compassionate Care Act — which narrows the spectrum of diseases for which marijuana can be prescribed, made the poposal more palatable to opponents. The newly amended bill sponsored by Savino narrows that to about 20 conditions, including cancer, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Sen. William Larkin, R-Newburgh, was the lone Republican on the committee to vote in favor of the bill. He said he voted with his conscious to represent some of his constituents that suffer from a rare form of epilepsy that causes them to have multiple seizures a day.
“The Compassionate Care Act is the only legislation that has come before the Senate committee which could provide the families of these children with the relief they are seeking,” the 86-year-old Republican told the Associated Press.
While the Senate finance committee is one hurdle, getting it to a vote in the Senate will be another.
Due to the power sharing agreement between Republicans and a faction of five Democrats that control the Senate, each leader can block bills from being brought to the floor by using their veto power.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos has warmed up to the idea, saying he supports medical marijuana use in oil form, but has trepidation about smoking the drug. Savino’s bill would prohibit patients under the age of 21 from smoking the drug.
Republican Sen. Phil Boyle introduced medical marijuana legislation last week for non-combustible use; it would instead be administered through oils, edibles or vaporizers.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo also proposed a pilot program in January for 20 hospitals statewide to administer marijuana to patients. A spokesman for Cuomo said he wasn’t sure what the latest update on Cuomo’s program is and referred questions to the state’s health department, which would oversee the program. The health department did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
A spokesman for Cuomo said the governor would review the legislation if it passes.
Advocates say that Cuomo’s program and Boyle’s legislation are insufficient and the bill given committee approval Tuesday is more robust.