Cuomo proposal a cautious start

New York state is not going to pot, despite the recent medical marijuana proposal discussed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State speech earlier this month.

Rather, Cuomo’s initiative represents a cautious, common-sense approach to a drug that could help people who need it.

Cuomo outlined a limited initiative last Wednesday to authorize medical marijuana for patients at 20 hospitals – which would establish the test program under state Department of Health regulations – using his administrative powers rather than pushing for legislation.

“We will monitor the program to evaluate the effectiveness and the feasibility of a medical marijuana system,” he said.

In an accompanying briefing book, the Cuomo administration described who would be eligible: patients with cancer, glaucoma and other specific diseases listed by the Health Department and “who are in a life-threatening or sense-threatening situation.” Both conditions would be certified by a doctor and the program would be subject to stringent research protocols, the book said.

People already have criticized the plan as going too far in making marijuana available; others have said the plan does not go nearly far enough.

While marijuana remains illegal in New York, possessing a small amount has been reduced to a low-level violation. About 20 states have medical marijuana laws.

Cuomo’s proposal focuses solely on a limited test program, regulated and monitored by the Health Department. Earlier this week, the governor said pending bills to legalize and tax marijuana like any other product are “a non-starter for me.”

We understand people are worried about the possible consequences of allowing a potentially addictive drug to be accessed legally. But keep in mind, despite all the problems with painkiller addiction, no one is pushing to ban them.

This policy is far from full decriminalization. New York state is not set to join Colorado or Washington in allowing legal recreational marijuana.

Given its limited scope, this is clearly a cautious measure that will allow Cuomo – or whoever is the governor – a chance to withdraw the policy if it does not work.