State of Politics: Maziarz 3rd GOP Co-Sponsor of Compassionate Care Act

Time Warner Cable News, State of Politics blog, 6/2/14

Sen. George Maziarz, a Western New York Republican, has become the third member of the Senate GOP to sign on as a co-sponsor of the Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize marijuana for medical use, med-mar advocates announced.

“We’re grateful for Senator Maziarz’s support of the Compassionate Care Act,” said Gabriel Sayegh, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “This legislation is supported by Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, and the overwhelming majority of New York voters and anyone else who cares about compassion and justice for patients. Clearly, this isn’t a partisan issue – it’s about people, about relieving suffering. Now it’s time for the Senate to stop delaying and pass the Compassionate Care Act.”

In so doing, Maziarz joins his fellow Western New Yorker, Sen. Mark Grisanti, and Rochester Sen. Joe Robach. In addition, three other Republicans – Sens. Thomas O’Mara, John Bonacic and Bill Larkin – have expressed support for the act, which is being carried and aggressively championed by Sen. Diane Savino, an IDC member.

Larkin cast the deciding vote last month that allowed the Compassionate Care Act to move out of the Health Committee. He was the lone GOP member of the committee to vote “yes,” joining eight Democrats. Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans, voted “no.”

The act is now in the Senate Finance Committee, whose chairman, Sen. John DeFrancisco, has indicated he’s opposed to the measure, but is open to a bill proposed by fellow Republican Sen. Phil Boyle, of Long Island, that would prohibit smoking the drug while allowing it to be administered through a vaporizer, oils or edibles.

This weekend, the New York Times editorialized on the medical marijuana issue, calling on the Senate leadership to allow a vote on Savino’s bill. Savino has said she believes there are 39 “yes” votes for the measure if the act makes it to the floor for a vote, and GOP Senate Leader Dean Skelos, who opposes the idea of letting people smoke marijuana, has suggested a vote might be possible before the session’s scheduled end on June 19.

But that was before this weekend’s WFP convention and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s newfound support of the Senate Democrats’ quest to re-take the majority, which likely changes the political calculus for the rest of the session, leaving the Republicans with little interest in pasasing very much of anything.

It’s also unclear just how supportive Cuomo would be of the Compassionate Care Act if it were to make it to his desk. He called for creation of a far more limited medical marijuana program in his State of the State address, but not much progress has been made in setting that up, and the budget did not include any funding for the project.

The Assembly recently passed a version of the Compassionate Care Act sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried that is similar, though not identical, to Savino’s bill. It was the fifth time in seven years that the Assembly has passed a med-mar measure.