On Tuesday, the New York state Senate’s Republican-led health committee approved a medical marijuana bill – a first victory in a series of obstacles advocates will have to battle.
The win shocked supporters, numbing them at first, and then evoking cheers of victory.
The measure passed 9-8, with just one Republican voting in support of it. The bill now moves to the Republican-led finance committee, which is the final step before hitting the Senate floor for a full vote.
“This is step one, it’s a huge victory,” said bill sponsor and Staten Island senator, Diane Savino, after receiving tearful hugs from advocates. “It’s historic for all of us, but now we go on to the next step. We are by no means at the end of the line yet.”
The bill, which is dubbed the Compassionate Care Act, underwent recent changes narrowing the range of ailments for which marijuana can be prescribed in an attempt to make the proposal more acceptable to opponents.
In its amended form, the bill specifies approximately 20 conditions for which medical marijuana can be legally prescribed and used for treatment. Many of these require medical assistants trained at medical assistant courses online. Some of these include cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, Multiple Sclerosis, HIV, AIDS, and Parkinson’s disease.
The lone Republican to vote for the bill, Sen. William Larkin, R-Newburgh, said his conscience directed his decision to represent constituents who seek alternative treatments to help battle a rare form of epilepsy – a form that causes multiple seizures on a daily basis.
“The Compassionate Care Act is the only legislation that has come before the Senate committee which could provide the families of these children with the relief they are seeking,” the 86-year-old Republican told the Associated Press.
Although the bill barreled through the health committee, it now has to buck up and secure a strong vote by the finance committee and continue the challenge on the Senate floor.
What worries supporters is the power that has been given to Senate leaders as a result of a power sharing agreement between the Republicans and a five-Democrat faction. Each “leader” has the power to block bills from stepping onto the Senate floor with a simple veto.
The hope is that compromises made to the bill early on will help it survive the next few votes and make itself available to those who need a different kind of hope.