New York State Senator Diane Savino had been a co-sponsor of the New York state medical marijuana bill since she first joined the Senate, and credits her interest in the cause to the "thousands and thousands of New Yorkers who suffer from chronic, debilitating conditions like multiple-sclerosis, epilepsy, diabetes, and cancer."
"Unfortunately for them, the options that are available to them are high addictive, very deadly narcotics—oxycodone, vicodin, ativan," she listed. "[These drugs are] a lot more damaging to you than marijuana but because of the laws in New York state, they can't sit down with their doctor and come up with the best treatment plan for them."
Savino said the New York bill would be the most regulated marijuana statute in the country.
"California is the worst model, there it's like the Wild West, literally," she said. "There's almost no regulation, there's almost no discernment on the part of medical professionals [about] who should and shouldn't have marijuana."
"It's exactly the opposite of what we want in New York," she added.
The way Savino describes it, legalizing marijuana could even be a profitable endeavor for the state.
"We want to license it, we want to tax it, we want to derive a significant amount of revenue from it," she said.
Savino said there would be a licensing fee imposed upon growers and dispensers, and an excise tax that has yet to be determined.
As for whether medical marijuana will be available to veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a potential use floated by advocacy group the New York Cannabis Alliance, Savino said she's "not sure."
"I don't believe we're listing that," she said. "Unfortunately, unlike other drugs, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, marijuana is still going to be considered illegal by the federal government, so we have to list specific conditions."
Savino said that public opinion is a factor in how restrictive the criteria in the bill is.
"Unfortunately the public is a little leery about what this substance could be used for, so we have to proceed a little bit carefully," she explained.
But the senator said she knows this legislation is vitally important to many New Yorkers.
Savino said she gets letters and phone calls not just from her own constituents, but from "people all over the state who have been living in pain, and if they just lived across one of the three bridges that connect us to New Jersey, they would have that option [to use medical marijuana]."
"Unfortunately, some people aren't going to live long enough to avail themselves of this options, but for those people that are, we have to move," Savino said.
The senator hopes to have a vote on the bill before the end of the legislative session.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat