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State Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill as Session Ends

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TWC News: State Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill as Session Ends
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State lawmakers worked into the early morning hours Friday to pass the final bills of the legislative session, and the state Senate gaveled back in Friday to approve a bill that would make New York the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.

The state legislature has now approved a last-minute deal in Albany to legalize medical marijuana.

The Assembly passed the bill in the early morning hours Friday after a marathon overnight voting session, and the state Senate followed suit on Friday afternoon, voting 49-10 in favor.

"I was surprised by the number, actually. I was surprised by some of the yes votes, too," said state Senator Diane Savino of Staten Island. "It's not just a gratifying feeling for me. It's really for the people who are going to be affected by it."

The vote did not come easily. Unlike the Assembly, the Senate opted to break for the night Thursday without passing the bill. That led to a rift in the chamber, where the fragile coalition between Republicans and the breakaway Democrats who control the Senate majority looked like it would fracture.

"It's getting very late, and we have a lot of advocates out there who are very tired. They've been here for days," state Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, said late Thursday night. "We also want to have a debate on the bill. There are some questions on the medical marijuana bill."

The two Senate leaders vowed to pass the bill Friday instead, which they ultimately did. Republicans insisted on reading the legislation carefully before voting, something they were criticized for not doing last year when they passed gun control legislation known as the Safe Act in the middle of the night. That bill needed several amendments.

"Sometimes, when you bring out a bill late, you get criticized, and then because you're not bringing it out during the light of day, and then, if you're going to bring it out during the light of day, it assumes that there are going to be problems," said Dean Skelos, the state Senate's Republican Conference leader.

A number of initiatives did not get done this year, including campaign finance reform. That prompted Governor Andrew Cuomo to send a mixed message during a radio interview Friday. On the one hand, he praised the accomplishments he and the legislature achieved, but he also vowed to campaign against the coalition government in the Senate because he considers it a failure.

"You have Democrats, you have conservatives, you have different ways of looking at the world, and that's what that is. And it is appropriate that they are resolved in the political context," Cuomo said.

Still, the governor said he was happy they could reach a deal on medical marijuana.

The medical marijuana legislation now goes to Cuomo's desk, and he is expected to sign it. The earliest the program could get up and running is 2015.

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