The Plattsburgh City Council unanimously welcomed the medical marijuana industry to Plattsburgh earlier this month, but on-campus students who may need the drug won’t receive it — if the industry even hits the North.

The Compassionate Care Act, enacted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July 2014, legalized a medical marijuana program for New Yorkers.

The program, however, has strict guidelines. Smoking isn’t allowed, but vaporizing is. One guideline listed in the New York Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act prohibits the use of medical marijuana in “all public and private colleges, universities and other educational and vocational institutions, including dormitories, residence halls and other group residential facilities that are owned or operated” by these institutions.

That includes Plattsburgh State.

“If the law says it’s not allowed, we would follow it,” said PSUC Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman. “We don’t have a choice.”

So unless the law changes, on-campus students who are eligible will be excluded from the drug’s benefits, which the New York Department of Health website states helps with diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and inflammatory bowel disease. Students on campus with cancer aren’t common, but Hartman said he could name a few.

Off-campus students, however, can get the drug. The campus already has procedures set for students whose special medical needs exempt them from off-campus requirements, so Hartman said it is possible that students with medical marijuana needs could be exempt. That is ultimately the PSUC Health Center’s decision, though.

Student Health & Counseling Center Director Kathleen Camelo could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
Hartman knows one thing is for sure: The campus would be approaching new territory.

“I’m not aware of us ever saying, ‘Yes,’ to moving off-campus because of medication,” he said.

Who is saying, “Yes,” when it comes to this medication? College-aged New York voters, according to a 2014 Quinnipiac University Poll. Ninety-three percent of 18- to 29-year-old voters support medical marijuana, while 83 percent support non-medical marijuana.

New York Sen. Liz Krueger just introduced a recreational marijuana bill in January, so that still has a ways to go.
As for medical marijuana? Businesses won’t know whether they’ll receive a permit until the summer, said Becky Kasper, a Plattsburgh city councilor. Businesses should be ready to operate by 2016.

New York state will allow only five registered organizations to grow, manufacture, distribute and dispense the drug, according to the state Department of Health website.

“Each registered organization may operate up to four dispensing facilities statewide, for up to an initial total of 20 geographically dispersed dispensing facilities,” the website said.

Evan Nison, co-founder and director of the New York Cannabis Alliance, said he believes the city’s affirmative support for medical marijuana can attract business here. NYCA shared Plattsburgh’s resolution on its Facebook page and congratulated the city on “becoming the first municipality to formally welcome the medical marijuana industry to their community.”

The city resolution also highlighted the low commercial electricity rates, which would provide cheap energy needed to grow the plant indoors.

Businesses should be interested in this Plattsburgh staple, Kasper said — that, and the area’s prime location.

“Plattsburgh is really a central point,” she said. “It’s kind of a crown jewel in the North Country, so it could be a great distribution center for the drug.”

The community has been supportive for the most part, said Paul O’Connell, another city councilor. However, some aren’t about change.

“There’s a lot of people from the old school that think it would be a crime,” O’Connell said. “And it’s not. It’s a law that’s passed.”

Criminal impact isn’t a worry for Plattsburgh Police Chief Desmond Racicot. The state program’s strict guidelines are just “really, really intense,” he said.

“This is not like someone having a garden in their backyard or a farmer having a cornfield,” Racicot said. “This has to be in a secure facility with alarms and security.”

Nison of NYCA said medical marijuana dispensaries attract far less crime than banks. So crime shouldn’t increase, but he said it probably won’t decrease like Denver’s did when it completely repealed prohibition last year. Medical marijuana experiences mostly medical benefits, he said.

Either way, much remains to be seen. The law is only a draft, so it could still change to give on-campus students access to the drug. And it will be a few months until the city knows whether it will become a medical hub.

But if businesses do come to Plattsburgh, Kasper said she hopes the change will encourage students to view the city differently and perhaps even make it home — not for the high-grade marijuana they will only dream about smoking, but for the city’s progressiveness.

“Students think they’re stuck in the sticks and the weeds up here and that we’re not progressive,” Kasper said, “but we are.”

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