Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed tentatively legalizing medical marijuana during his election-year State of the State address Wednesday, meaning New York State may become the 21st state in the nation to do so.
The much-anticipated-yet-still-controversial idea was expected, although the governor didn’t spend as much time discussing it as he did offering updates on earlier initiatives such as building casinos, strengthening public corruption laws and passing a Women’s Equality Agenda—in addition to a few new items on his agenda.
“We have to make New York healthier,” Cuomo told the audience while outlining his plan to launch a pilot program that allows up to 20 hospitals to provide medical marijuana to patients being treated for serious illnesses. “Research suggests that medical marijuana can help manage the pain of cancer and other diseases.”
His announcement came a month after state lawmakers held a hearing in Mineola on a medical marijuana proposal.
The address came a day after Vice President Joseph Biden and Cuomo announced a plan to “re-imagine” New York with $16 billion worth of public works projects to rebuild upstate bridges, modernize New York City airports and storm-proofing subway tunnels—a plan they called a national model.
Key issues he raised for Long Island—aside from taxes—included spending $100 million statewide on affordable housing, building strategic fuel reserves to pre-empt gas lines like those after Sandy and enhancing storm early detection systems.
He also unveiled new plans to freeze property taxes for two years to help homeowners, reform the corporate tax structure to make the state more attractive to business and lower the estate tax so that it’s aligned with other states.
Other new plans Cuomo outlined in his address include establishing the nation’s first college specifically for emergency preparedness and homeland security, ensuring three-time drunken-driving convicts lose their licenses for good and offering full scholarships to the top 10 percent of high school graduates who pursue degrees in math or science and agree work in New York for five years after graduation.
He announced his support for an existing proposal that would ensure 16 and 17 year old minors would no longer be automatically charged as adults when accused of committing non-violent crimes—a distinction New York shares only with North Carolina.
On the casino front, Cuomo said requests for proposals for four upstate Las Vegas-style casinos will be issued in March with bids due in June and winners will be announced in early fall.
He additionally tried to defuse bickering sparked by his Moreland Commission on public corruption, co-chaired by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, which began investigating the New York State Legislature in the wake of the latest string of lawmakers’ arrests.
“It reflects badly on all of us, because people don’t distinguish,” Cuomo said. “And it goes to the essence of what were trying to do.”
He wants new anti-bribery and corruption laws, publicly financed elections and lawmakers to disclosure outside clients with business before the state, among other changes that some in the state Senate and Assembly have resisted.
State Senate Co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who issued a statement after the address saying that Republicans are “prepared to pass legislation that attacks corruption in government,” signaled that Cuomo’s proposed Women’s Equality Agenda is still a point of contention.
While state Assembly Speak Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) stated after the address that Democrats are prepared to once again pass all 10 parts of the proposal, Republicans in the state Senate have backed all but one: reinforcing a woman’s right to an abortion.
“Let’s enact a women’s equality bill that protects all women from discrimination in the workplace and ensures equal pay for equal work,” Skelos said, without mentioning the hot-button reproductive rights issue that sank the legislative package last year.
“It’s just been another year where government has failed to act on behalf of women,” Cuomo had said during his address. “Stop playing politics with women’s rights.”