City Council Debates Medical Marijuana Resolution

Council members converse before vote today for medical marijuana resolution.

Council members converse before today’s vote for a medical marijuana-related resolution.

The New York City Council’s health committee gathered today to discuss a hot-button issue being considered by a legislative body far from home: medical marijuana legislation currently before the U.S. Congress.

In a 6-to-0 vote, a resolution was sent to the full council, urging the federal government to approve the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, which would take medical marijuana off the federal list of controlled substances and enable certified medical providers and researchers to prescribe or access the drug without the threat of prosecution. But the unanimous vote didn’t mean a lack of dissent. 

“This has absolutely nothing to do with anyone that lives in New York City,” declared Queens Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., a self-described conservative Democrat who abstained from the vote.

“Basically we’re deciding, we’re voting, on whether someone in California is violating federal law,” he argued. “And this is now the third time [I’ve come] down here on this and I’m very busy and I don’t like when we get involved with things that have nothing to do with New York City.”

Councilman Oliver Koppell, the lead sponsor of the resolution, however, insisted the issue was an important one to take a stand on.

“We’re asking Congress to change a law that makes no sense,” he argued.

The chair of the committee, Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo, agreed with Mr. Koppell and argued that, even though twenty U.S. states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, there is an “inconsistency” in the way medical providers and patients are treated under the federal law.

“Currently the federal government puts marijuana in the same category as heroin—defining it as a dangerous and illegal drug with no medical value and a high likelihood of abuse and dependence,” she said. “Their citizens are put in a precarious situation given the potential of federal prosecution …. This isn’t just some policy—its just common sense.”

With many of the members, including Mr. Koppell and Mr. Vallone being term-limited and prohibited from seeking re-election, Mr. Koppell also acknowledged the fast-approaching end of the year deadline.

“I know its holiday season and the end of our session,” he said, apologizing. “I appreciate the members coming specifically for this.”