New York Committees Pass Bill to Expand Medical Marijuana Program, Further Block Federal Prohibition

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 2, 2017) – Last Tuesday, two New York Assembly committees passed a bill that would expand the state’s medical marijuana program. Passage of this measure would further block the federal prohibition on cannabis in practice.

Assm. Richard Gottfried (D-NYC) introduced Assembly Bill 4277 (A4277), along with 31 cosponsors. If passed, New York would recognize medical marijuana cards from other states, allowing out-of-state residents to access medical marijuana while in New York.

“A registry identification card, or its equivalent, that is issued under the laws of another state, district, territory, commonwealth, or possession of the United States that allows the medical use of marihuana has the same force and effect as a registry identification card issued by the department, so long as the visiting patient’s condition is a serious condition, as attested to in writing by a practitioner. Where a registered organization dispenses medical marihuana to a patient under this subdivision, a copy of the attestation shall be provided to the registered organization.”

The bill would also create a committee to advise the commissioner on making regulations under the medical marijuana law.

The Assembly Health Committee passed A4277 23-3. Later that day, the Assembly Codes Committee passed the measure 17-5.

In 2014, New York enacted the Compassionate Care Act to create a limited medical marijuana program. Patients with 11 conditions can qualify for treatment with medicinal cannabis. The law does not allow smokable marijuana and prohibits home cultivation. The law also limits the numbers of cultivators and dispensaries in the state.

Passage of A4277 would represent the first expansion of the program since its inception.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

New York’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any lawful authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While state law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward thwarting in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, New York essentially sweeps away part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts are set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states last year. Having already legalized medical marijuana for some patients, A4277 would relax restrictions on cannabis even further.

With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.

The proposed expansion of the state’s medical marijuana law also demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. Once the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. A4277 represents another step forward for patients seeking alternative treatments and a further erosion of deplorable federal marijuana prohibition.

WHAT’S NEXT

A4277 now moves to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.