Are You Kidding? New York Passes Limited Medical Pot Law, But Nanny Cuomo Says You Can't Smoke It

It's 2014, but Cuomo is still living in the Dark Ages.
In an cringeworthy move that will be compared with Bill Clinton's much lampooned line, "I smoked pot, but I didn't inhale," New York governor Andrew Cuomo says you may need cannabis  for medical reasons, but you can't smoke it. Why? Because it is too dangerous, says Cuomo, ignoring tons of data showing that pot smoking is far less dangerous and more beneficial than alcohol. But Cuomo, for reasons that are unclear and open to severe head scratching, continues to remain in the Dark Ages when it comes to pot.  
The New York State legislature is finally ready to move forward in a commonsense way, and pass a modest medical pot bill, after years of flailing around. Meanwhile, 23 states have passed medical pot laws and pot was legalized for everyone over 21 in Colorado and Washington state. So New York has been particularly slow on this issue, almost glacial. And of course, the state legislature in Albany is known for its corruption and ineptitude, with a batch of members recently indicted or convicted on various transgressions. The legislature in Albany has been labeled as the most ineffective in the country. But under closer scrutiny, the legislatures are bad in so many states, it is hard for Albany to rise to the top of the worst heap. And on medical pot, the Democrats have been trying, and finally there were Republican votes to help it pass.
But New York's uptight governor, who apparently has never let his freak flag fly, showed a lack of reality-based governing and literal common sense, as he forced the lawmakers to pass a restrictive medical pot law, one of the most conservative in the country, and the only one that prohibits the smoking of pot, the way many millions of people have consumed it for thousands of years. 
The funny thing is that under the Cuomo rules, people can't smoke pot, but they can eat it. Oh, that's great. It just shows how out of touch Cuomo may be. Pot edibles are actually the one area where concern is warranted because of the very strong effects of ingesting it. Apparently Cuomo did not read the infamous NY Times column of a few weeks ago by the formerly highly stoned Maureen Dowd on her trip to Colorado. But more on that in a minute. 
It may be 2014, but it seems Cuomo is still living in the distant past. According to the New York Times, more than 20 states now allow patients access to marijuana as a palliative to counter the effects of treatment like chemotherapy, or to alleviate symptoms like seizures. Most allow smoking, but Cuomo has made it clear this will not be permitted. Governor Cuomo still buys into long disproved pot myths like pot is a "gateway drug": "Mr. Cuomo said that he was wary of allowing marijuana to become too widely or too easily available. In recent days he said he feared that it was 'a gateway drug,' and observed that the state was already dealing with a resurgence of heroin use."   
Hello? Tens of millions of people have smoked pot in America, including most of our so-called leaders, but apparently not Cuomo. And how many of them became heroin addicts? Seriously, that notion is both fearmongering and ridiculous, and it harkens back to the distorted days of reefer madness. Cuomo is ignoring thousands of years of history of all the countries, cultures, brilliant people, and literally hundreds of millions of everyday people who smoke pot around the world. (Read Marty Lee's great book Smoke Signals if you want to know the long and fascinating history of pot.)
It is hard to comprehend just how absurd this heroin fear is. And Cuomo "doesn't want to make pot widely or easily available"? It's already widely available! It's just illegal. New York arrests more people for pot than any other state according to an ACLU study. The numbers are shocking: "In 2010, there were 103,698 marijuana-possession arrests in New York State—more than 29,000 more arrests than the state with the second-highest total, Texas with 74,286 arrests. .. Arrests for marijuana possession in the city skyrocketed from only 774 in 1991—for the lowest misdemeanor offense—to 50,383 in 2010—an increase of 6,409 percent." And typically those being arrested are minorities, even though research consistently shows no difference in marijuana consumption habits by race.
While an exact number may be hard to quantify, probably millions of people will smoke pot in New York in 2014. The underground pot economy is pervasive, which reflects the fact that pot is supposed to be a misdemeanor, but more importantly it is a method of pleasure and relaxation for many people as well as medicine for many ailments (most ignored by the New York pot bill) and of very little harm. Compared to booze, as a rule, pot smokers don't get in fights, have car accidents, cause domestic violence, shoot guns, have liver failure or end up in AA.
This whole situation in NY is all the more unbelievable, since by 1978 pot was decriminalized in New York and getting caught with pot should lead typically to a summons. Yet, if you are dying, you have to jump through hoops to get a little cannabis to relieve the pain. And the fastest way to get pain relief is typically to smoke it, since edibles and tinctures (approved in NY) take more time to take effect. So Cuomo doesn't trust your doctor to tell you how best to use it. 
The huge and continuing number of pot arrests are another instance where supposedly liberal New York often doubles as a nanny state and a capital of mass incarceration policies that have been so destructive. Pot arrests are still going strong in NYC, despite the fact that Mayor Bill de Blasio promised in January, "I would instruct the NYPD, right now, [to] stop arresting people for displays of small amounts. It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t make us safer." The old adage could never be more true: "Watch what they do, not what they say." Hypocrisy knows no bounds when it comes to harassing people, stopping and frisking them, and ruining lives. 
In the big picture, California has had legal medical pot via Proposition 215, the California Compassionate Use Act, which was enacted by the voters and took effect on Nov. 6, 1996. The law makes it legal for patients and their designated primary caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana for their personal medical use given the recommendation or approval of a California-licensed physician. This system, in place for 18 years, has not caused serious problems beyond the over-proliferation of pot stores in some cities. In a very tolerant environment, hundreds of thousands have medical pot cards, and have wide access to cannabis in many forms, and many sick and ailing people have had relief. But does New York look at other parts of the country and see what works, that the risks are small, and that pot use does not lead to heroin addiction? Apparently not. 
I'm thinking maybe Andrew Cuomo should get out more. Make a visit to Colorado where pot is legal, where the state is taking in large amounts of tax dollars and enjoying tons of tourist visits. And where the embarrassing edible experience was described by Maureen Dowd. After eating too much of a pot candy bar, Dowd described the following: 
"But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.

"....It took all night before it began to wear off, distressingly slowly. The next day, a medical consultant at an edibles plant where I was conducting an interview mentioned that candy bars like that are supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for novices; but that recommendation hadn’t been on the label."

Well, no one wants that to happen in New York State with edibles. Which is why smoking pot can often be the preferred way to take this medicine. The Drug Policy Alliance, the country's leading advocacy group, explained in a press release:

"We are disappointed to learn that eligible conditions have been limited, and despite strong medical evidence about the benefits of smoked and raw cannabis, leaders decided to exclude this as an option for doctors and patients in New York. We strongly believe that the decision about the mode of administration for any medication should be left up to doctor and their patients. The cost of purchasing a vaporizer and the extract products will likely leave many low-income patients behind, and there is little research on the long-term health effects of using extracts."

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.