New York Gov. Cuomo plans to relax medical marijuana laws

On Wednesday, Jan 8, Gov Cuomo delivered his State of the State address, where he revealed his agenda for 2014, including a loosening of the restrictions on medical marijuana use. Courtesy of Gov Andrew Cuomo.

In his 2014 State of the State address Wednesday night, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to loosen restrictions on medical marijuana use, allowing certain hospitals to distribute the drug to patients suffering from serious illnesses. Cuomo’s plan would use executive action, bypassing legislative approval, to rekindle a 1980 law that allows New York residents to set up a limited medical marijuana pilot program. Twenty hospitals across New York would be allowed to prescribe marijuana to patients who have debilitating or life threatening conditions like cancer or glaucoma.

The move is a surprising one for Gov Cuomo, who has adamantly resisted pressure to legalize weed in the past. But, the proposed policy will be much more restrictive than medical marijuana laws in other states like California or Colorado. Many left leaning outlets have dismissed Cuomo’s decision as a strategic election-year political nod towards his Democratic base, criticizing him for not going far enough to cut down on the number of low level drug arrests which cost the state a pretty penny. Indeed the decriminalization of open possession and it’s disproportionate effect on communities of color featured prominently in the recent campaign of New York mayor Bill DeBlasio, who was elected with 73% of the vote.

Still others say that this announcement is an important attitude shift for the nation’s third most populous state. Legalizing the limited use of medical marijuana is largely a political win-win situation for the Governor. It will likely cost him little votes in the more conservative districts upstate, while aligning his administration with a progressive issue gaining popularity across the country.

Currently twenty states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize various forms of medical marijuana use, with Colorado and Washington decriminalizing its recreational use. According to a poll conducted by Sienna College in May, 82% of New York residents approve of medical marijuana use.

Only time will tell if New York will become the 21st state to legalize medical marijuana.

H/T Jordan Vesey

Support PBS NewsHour: