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State Senate Committee Advances Medical Marijuana Bill

Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. (credit: Getty Images)

Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. (credit: Getty Images)

CBS New York (con't)

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ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Republican-led New York State Senate Health Committee approved a medical marijuana bill on Tuesday – in only the first of a series of hurdles, but nonetheless a vote that shocked advocates into silent disbelief before they quickly erupted into cheers.

Only one Republican voted for the measure that passed 9-8. It now moves to the Republican-led finance committee — the next step before a vote in the Senate.

“This is step one, it’s a huge victory,” Sen. Diane Savino (D- Staten Island), the sponsor of the bill, said 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.”

Advocates say recent changes to the Senate bill, which narrows the spectrum of diseases for which marijuana can be prescribed, made the bill more palatable to opponents. The newly amended bill sponsored by Savino narrows that to about 20 conditions, including cancer, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Sen. William Larkin (R-Newburgh) was the lone Republican on the committee to vote in favor of the bill. He did not immediately comment on his vote.

While the Senate finance committee is one hurdle, getting it to a vote in the Senate will be another.

Due to the power sharing agreement between Republicans and a faction of five Democrats that control the Senate, each leader can block bills from being brought to the floor by using their veto power.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) has warmed up to the idea, saying he supports medical marijuana use in oil form, but has trepidation about smoking the drug. Savino’s bill would prohibit patients under the age of 21 from smoking the drug.

Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) introduced medical marijuana legislation last week for non-combustible use; it would instead be administered through oils, edibles or vaporizers.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo also proposed a pilot program in January for 20 hospitals statewide to administer marijuana to patients. A spokesman for Cuomo said he wasn’t sure what the latest update on Cuomo’s program is and referred questions to the state’s health department, which would oversee the program. The health department did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

A spokesman for Cuomo said the governor would review the legislation if it passes.

Advocates said Cuomo’s program and Boyle’s legislation are insufficient and the bill given committee approval Tuesday is more robust.

In February, a Quinnipiac University poll found that only 9 percent of surveyed New York state voters oppose legalizing medical marijuana.

The poll found that 88 percent of those surveyed backed the legalization of marijuana for medical use, and 57 percent also favor legalizing recreational use.

State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) last year introduced a full legalization bill, an idea that the Cuomo administration opposes.

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