POLITICS
05/20/2014 03:01 pm ET Updated May 20, 2014

Medical Marijuana Bill Clears Major Hurdle In New York

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A bill to legalize medical marijuana in New York cleared a major hurdle in Albany Tuesday as the Senate Health Committee passed the Compassionate Care Act by a slim, bipartisan vote of 9 to 8.

"This vote is an enormous milestone in our quest to bring safe and reliable medical marijuana treatment to patients all across our state," said the bill's sponsor, state Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), in a statement. "Today, the Senate has taken a decisive first step in moving this legislation forward."

Savino has said she has 40 votes in the senate, including from five Republicans, which is enough for the bill to pass if it comes to the floor for a vote. Tuesday's health committee decision puts the bill one big step closer to that happening.

Last month, Savino amended the Compassionate Care Act to make it more agreeable to Republicans in the state Senate. Lohud.com reported that the new version of the bill would allow only those over 21 to smoke marijuana for medical purposes. Those under 21 would have to use alternative methods of ingesting cannabis, such as using oils. The new version also listed a specific set of illnesses for which medical marijuana could be prescribed.

The Democrat-controlled state Assembly has repeatedly passed the Compassionate Care Act, only to have it stall in the Republican-controlled Senate. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has previously indicated that if the bill were to pass the both the Assembly and Senate, he would sign it.

Now that the bill has passed in the health committee, it will move to the finance committee for a vote. If passed there, it will be brought to the Senate floor. Earlier this month, state Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos told reporters that "there’s a good possibility" the bill come to a full Senate vote before the end of June.

Tuesday's vote gives advocates a glimmer of hope that the Compassionate Care Act could finally pass.

“Thankfully, a majority in the Senate Health Committee voted today in support of compassion, science and common sense,” Gabriel Sayegh, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. “Now it’s time for the full Senate and Assembly to vote on the Compassionate Care Act and send the bill to the Governor for his signature. New Yorkers living with cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and other serious and debilitating conditions should not have to wait any longer to get relief.”

A February poll found that a supermajority of New Yorkers -- nearly 90 percent -- support legalized medical marijuana in the state.

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