New York To Become 21st State To Allow Medical Marijuana

Ok, so maybe it's not Colorado, but it's perhaps a step towards what the American public has been wanting for a while now. This Wednesday, New York will catch up with 20 other U.S. states when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces an executive action to legalize the (limited) use of medical marijuana for patients with serious illnesses. That means that while some 20-year-olds in New York may not be able to legally buy a cigarette, they might be allowed to get some pot.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Cuomo's plan — which is likely to be announced during his State of the State address — is still pretty strict. It'll allow only 20 hospitals (which have yet to be determined) across New York to prescribe weed, and those prescriptions will only be given to people with cancer, glaucoma, or other very specific illnesses that meet the standards set out by the New York State Department of Health. So it still won't be like California, where a backache or insomnia (wink wink) will get you a prescription.

The move is still pretty significant, though. Legislation to legalize a state medical marijuana program has repeatedly passed the Democrat-controlld state Assembly but has kept being blocked by the state Senate's Republicans. And Cuomo's been on the anti-legalization side for a while, repeating his staunch opposition to the measure as recently as April.

So why the major turnaround for the governor? Maybe he was bolstered by the success of neighboring Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who managed to legalize, under very strict limits, medical marijuana in New Jersey. Maybe it also has to do with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his oh-so-cool progressiveness, which is starting to make Cuomo look a bit stodgy by comparison.

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It's possible it also has to do with the simple fact that America is changing: 58 percent of Americans now support marijuana legalization, a ten percent leap since the year before. In the early 2000s, the public opposed legalization by a thirty-point margin. So attitudes are shifting, and legislators are perhaps, finally, starting to realize that.

“The governor being part of this discussion is a tremendous sea change in this issue,” said State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island).

That being said, legalizing specific medical use is different from legalizing recreational use; so will your average New Yorker really feel a difference? Surprisingly, there's a chance they might. It's been shown that teen pot use is actually bolstered by medical marijuana laws; over a third of high-schoolers who live in states with legalized medical marijuana say they use other people’s prescriptions to obtain their own weed. And, actually, as it stands, possessing small amounts of weed in New York is actually only a low-level violation subject to a fine. So it's not hard to imagine how the new law could play out.