New York followed Colorado’s model — and tried to avoid California’s mistakes — in crafting its new medical marijuana bill, lawmakers said.
The measure passed by the Legislature on Friday, which makes New York the 23rd state to allow medical marijuana, is far more restricted than in Colorado, which legalized recreational pot smoking last year.
But it uses the Rocky Mountain state’s “seed to sale” model — with the same company producing and packaging the pot and operating the dispensaries.
Proponents of this system say it makes the drug easier to track and decreases the likelihood of black market operators getting their hands on the weed.
While Colorado has more than 500 marijuana dispensaries, New York plans to license five manufacturers to grow, package and sell the product in secure indoor facilities, probably greenhouses. Each of the manufacturers can operate up to four marijuana dispensaries.
New York has also banned smoking medical pot — a restriction that only Minnesota includes in its law.
Gaia Plant Based medicine — which is based in Colorado and hopes to be one of the five growers in New York — played a key role in crafting New York’s law, according to State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), the prime sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
Gaia spent $100,000 on lobbying in 2013 to help persuade lawmakers to vote for the bill.
But Savino said lawmakers were swayed less by the lobbying and more by emotional testimony from pain sufferers who said marijuana would help them deal with serious illness. She credited Gaia with providing expertise — giving the state a basic blueprint of what a regulated system would be and showing reluctant lawmakers that you could avoid the wide-open system that California implemented in 1996, which led to medical pot falling into the hands of teenagers.
“They’ve been pretty good because you need somebody to educate you because we don’t have any frame of reference in New York — how do you run a medical marijuana program, what would one look like. That is the role of a lobbyist.”
Critics of Colorado’s law point out that the state is already seeing public safety and health problems — more teens are being admitted to hospitals after being sickened by edible forms of marijuana.
“Kids can’t tell the difference between a chocolate chip cookie that’s going to put you in the emergency room and a chocolate chip cookie that’s going to give you a sugar high,” said Kevin Sabet, executive director of anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
He said New York’s ban on puffing does not eliminate the risk that pot cooked into a cookie can still get into the wrong hands.
Drug policy analysts applauded parts of the bill, like the fact that Gov. Cuomo can pull the plug on the program if the Department of Health or Public Safety recommends doing so.
Sabet said time would tell if New York’s program remains in the mold of states like New Mexico and New Jersey, which have limited access to marijuana, or Washington state, where weed is advertised with gaudy neon signs.
“If you’re going to have a program, it needs to be very limited without advertising or any kind of commercialization attached to it,” he said.
Questions also remain about staffing and oversight to implement the terms of the new bill.
“Cuomo has been very clear in saying the state is going to keep a watchful eye over the potential downsides to this,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
“But at a time when state workforces tend to be shrinking, does New York State have the ability and the staffing to actually monitor these kinds of programs in the right way?”
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