By Jon Campbell
ALBANY Closed-door negotiations over a bill to legalize medical marijuana leaked into public view Monday, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a key state senator disagreeing over whether the drug should be smoked.
In separate radio interviews Monday, Cuomo and Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, the bill's sponsor, publicly staked out their negotiating positions as they try to reach a compromise on a system for allowing marijuana for patients with serious illnesses.
But while last-minute talks have led to some common ground, major sticking points remain apparent. In particular, Cuomo said State Police and the Department of Health have raised concerns about Savino's current bill, which would allow patients over the age of 21 to smoke the drug.
"The method of intaking the marijuana, the diseases that are covered—they have a very expansive list of diseases," Cuomo said on "The Capitol Pressroom," a public radio program. "This was supposed to be for very serious diseases. There's not supposed to be loopholes you can drive a truck through."
Savino said she and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, the bill's Assembly sponsor, both "reject" the idea of an outright ban on smoking. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, has also expressed concern about allowing smoking; a separate bill would allow only oil-based marijuana extracts for medicinal purposes.
The governor's people insist that smoking is completely off the table," Savino said. "We reject that. Let me tell you why, and we've spoken in the past, we think we've done everything possible to mitigate the issue of smoking. But health care professionals who prescribe medical marijuana and patient advocates will be first to tell you that for some patients smoking is the only method that will provide the relief that they need."
The state's legislative session is scheduled to end Thursday, when lawmakers are slated to return to their districts for the year.
Cuomo said he would agree to a bill only if it satisfies the concerns of State Police and the Department of Health.
"There are concerns and if we can address the concerns, then there will be a bill," Cuomo said. "But I'm not going to be part of a system that will wreak havoc."
A vote on medical marijuana is likely to happen in the New York Senate before the end of the legislative session Thursday.