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Compassion is Dead: No New York Medical-Pot Law This Year

Steven Wishnia Jun 28, 2005

Despite the pleas of multiple-sclerosis sufferer Montel Williams, New York State won’t be getting a medical-marijuana law this year. A bill to have the state license cultivators to grow marijuana for the terminally ill “is dead for this current session,” says an aide to Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), its sponsor.

The bill’s supporters had thought it would pass because it had finally acquired a Republican co-sponsor, essential for getting anywhere in the GOP-dominated State Senate. But that sponsor, State Sen. Vincent Leibell (R-Brewster), backed off after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Angel Raich on June 6, denying her claim that her homegrown medicine was beyond the reach of federal laws regulating interstate commerce. Leibell told the press after the decision that for New York to legalize medical marijuana would be, “In effect, setting up our citizens to violate federal law.”

Leibell has asked State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for an opinion on whether an effective state medical-pot measure is legally feasible. Spitzer, who is seeking the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, opposed legalizing marijuana during his 2002 campaign.

The federal law that says marijuana has no valid medical use and makes cultivation and distribution felonies has been in place for 35 years. “It’s ridiculous in a nation that claims to be compassionate,” Williams said at a June 20 press conference at City Hall. “We’re the only country in the world that makes it so illegal you can’t even research it.”

Gottfried will introduce another bill next year, even if federal law renders it largely symbolic. “It is more important than ever for New York to follow the ten other states that have passed medicinal-marijuana laws,” he said in a statement after the Supreme Court decision. “State laws are a potent way to send a message to the President, Congress and the courts.”