New York: Gearing up for big medical marijuana push in special session & Action Alert!!

This is a special alert that we are sending out to New Yorkers to ask those of you who identify as people of faith to take action. The legislature likely returns to session on Monday, November 29, and we are at a key moment in the fight to pass medical marijuana legislation in New York. The linchpin to this effort and a vote we need is South Bronx Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. (D), who is also a Pentecostal minister. Rev. Diaz’s faith is very important to him, and he often couches his voting decisions in the language of his faith, so it is important for him to know New Yorkers of faith want him to vote for medical marijuana.

If you identify as a person of faith, please call and e-mail Sen. Diaz and ask him, in the language of your own faith and spirituality, to vote for S. 8427, medical marijuana legislation, in the special session. Please be respectful of Rev. Diaz in the language that you use, and couch your appeal in terms that you think will be effective with him. As a Pentecostal minister, the words of the Bible are meaningful to him, and you can emphasize the Biblical values of compassion and caring for the sick.

Since each person connects with their faith in a different way, please add to the Biblical quotes in the call and e-mail scripts to tell your story of why your religiously-based moral values inspire you to support medical marijuana legislation.

Please do not let this last opportunity to help seriously ill patients slip away. Please pass this on to your friends of faith, and otherwise spread the word before it is too late. We must not let another year go by with patients criminalized for treating their illnesses.

Thank you for your support and compassion,

Noah Mamber signature (master)

Noah Mamber
Legislative Analyst
Marijuana Policy Project


Gearing up for big medical marijuana push in special session


Last update: November 21, 2010

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2009 and 2010 have been roller coaster years. We have edged closer and closer to finally passing a medical marijuana law, but have not yet crossed the finish line. In 2009, a Senate leadership struggle kept compassionate medical marijuana legislation in limbo for months. This year, medical marijuana legislation was likely to be included in the budget, but was excluded in the last moment. We are working hard to make sure that 2010 will finally be the year that patients are protected in New York.

In 2009, New York’s medical marijuana legislation was modified to garner support from senators of both parties. The twin bills, A. 9016 and S. 4041-B, are sponsored by Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and Senate Health Committee Chair Tom Duane (D-Manhattan). Senate Republicans who may be open to allowing medical marijuana have long opposed allowing patients and designated caregivers to grow small amounts of marijuana. The bills would instead allow for safe access by allowing state-registered regulated entities to dispense medical marijuana to qualified patients. The bills passed through several committees with bipartisan support. A. 9016 passed the Assembly Health Committee, the Assembly Codes Committee, and the Assembly Ways and Means and Rules Committees. S. 4041-B passed the Senate Health Committee and the Senate Codes Committee. The Senate Finance Committee discharged the bill to Senate Rules without a vote on June 15. This is further than any past medical marijuana bill has progressed in the Senate. After a request for several other amendments came from the executive branch, the bills were amended again and reintroduced as A. 11565 and S. 8427.

The key is now the post-election special session. It is incredibly important to make sure that the legislature knows that voting on medical marijuana legislation is a priority for the upcoming special session. Also, last year was the first that a medical marijuana bill passed out of a Senate committee, and it is crucial that senators hear that their constituents want it to be a priority this year. Please write your state senator and urge him or her to support the swift enactment of medical marijuana legislation. 

Time is of the essence. New York’s 2011 legislative outlook looks much less positive than that of 2010. As a result of November’s election, it appears the Democrats have likely lost control of the state Senate, and it is unfortunately less likely that a Republican-led Senate would bring our bill up for a vote. The Democrats, who previously had a 32-30 advantage in the senate, are now at a 29-30 deficit with three extremely close races outstanding. Democratic Sen. Craig Johnson (Long Island), who responded positively to our medical marijuana questionnaire, and bill co-sponsor Democratic Sen. Antoine Thompson (Rochester) are each behind in their races by less than 500 votes, while Democratic Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer (Westchester County) leads her opponent by a similar margin with some votes yet to be counted. While all three contests could move to recounts and possible litigation, if the current counts hold, the Republicans will hold a 32-30 majority. Election results may be found here.

Your advocacy also helped produce a bright spot as medical marijuana supporter Councilman Tony Avella took out opponent Sen. Frank Padavan in Queens, with the help of MPP’s donation and your help. Supporter Tim Kennedy also held a suburban Buffalo seat in a close race. Democratic candidate Attorney General Andrew Cuomo won the governor’s race, a week after blindsiding New Yorkers by publicly coming out against medical marijuana legislation, saying “the dangers on medical marijuana outweigh the benefits,” and comparing legalizing proven medicine to legalizing prostitution. 

We have been working for years to make this happen, and time is running short for some seriously ill patients. It is crucial that senators hear that their constituents want it to be a priority in 2010. If you are someone with a personal story to tell regarding medical marijuana, please edit our letters and include your story in your e-mails to legislators. You can see how (and if) your state senator responded on our 2008 or 2010 candidate questionnaire on medical marijuana issues. If your assemblymember was in office in 2008, you can also see how your assemblymember voted. Please also urge other compassionate New Yorkers both to  write their state senators and to sign up for MPP’s free legislative alerts.

Public support 

Even among the most conservative New Yorkers, there is strong support for protecting patients. There is no reason for the Senate not to act. In 2007, a Mason-Dixon poll found that 55% of Conservative Party voters favor removing criminal sanctions for doctor-recommended medical marijuana patients. The poll also found support in six state senate districts across the state, ranging from 61-76%. In 2009, another Mason-Dixon poll found support ranging from 65-77% in three upstate state senate districts represented by moderate Republicans.

In addition, a February 2010 Quinnipiac Poll found that 71% of New Yorkers believe it’s a good idea to “allow adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it.”

Patient Testimonials 

Because of the state Senate’s inaction last year, thousands of patients continue to suffer. Some live in fear of arrest, and some are prosecuted and convicted. Others are too fearful or law-abiding to break state law and suffer needlessly because the medicine they know would work best is not allowed in their state.

You can read and, in some cases watch, 17 patients’ stories.

Are you a patient? 

If you are a patient with a serious medical condition who could benefit from medical marijuana, a loved one, a medical professional, or a member of law enforcement or clergy who might be interested in speaking out, please contact us at  to see how you can be of special help in passing this legislation. Please include your nine-digit ZIP code so we can identify your legislators, and please share your connection with medical marijuana.

Sign up now to stay up-to-date on New York marijuana policy 

Stay informed about local events and opportunities to move forward marijuana policy reform in New York by signing up for MPP’s free legislative alerts.

Did you know New York is a “decrim” state? 

New York is one of the 12 states that penalize the first-offense possession of a modest amount of marijuana with a fine instead of possible jail time. First-offense possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is punishable under New York law by a $100 civil citation. However, first-offense possession of between 25 grams and two ounces carries a $500 fine and up to three months in jail. Additionally, law enforcement have been able to exploit a loophole in the decriminalization law by getting an arrestee to expose his or her marijuana as “open to public view,” which converts the conduct into an arrestable offense. This has resulted in the second highest marijuana arrest rate in the U.S., arresting almost 93,000 people per year. Since 1997, the New York City Police Department has arrested 430,000 people for possessing small amounts of marijuana, mostly young people, giving New York City the dubious honor of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world. You can learn more about New York by reading this report by Jon Gettman, PhD.


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