No mention of medical marijuana
Remember way back in January, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a big splash by calling for the legalization of medical marijuana? Whatever happened to that?
At the time, there was little opposition to the idea.
A January Siena Research Institute poll found that two-thirds of voters “from every party, region and demographic group” support allowing patients with serious illness to have access to medical marijuana, with the exception of conservatives, of whom about 58 percent support it.
Given the polling data, I figured it was only a matter of time before medical marijuana was available to a narrow subset of sick New Yorkers. The governor’s proposal seemed like a no-brainer — a way for Cuomo to gain national attention and shore up liberal support without doing anything controversial. After all, 20 states have already legalized medical marijuana. What was New York waiting for?
If anything, Cuomo’s medical marijuana plan didn’t go far enough.
Under the governor’s plan, 20 hospitals would be permitted to dispense pot for certain serious ailments, such as cancer. And it would be conducted like a clinical research program, with the goal of assessing whether pot is an effective form of treatment for things such as chemotherapy-induced nausea. But there’s already a body of research, as well as testimonies from many, many, many people, that suggests marijuana provides relief for a range of serious illnesses. And Cuomo’s plan, with its limited scope, would likely exclude patients who could benefit from medical marijuana.
Like other advocates for medical marijuana, I’m much more enthusiastic about the Compassionate Care Act, a longstanding piece of legislation that would allow seriously ill New Yorkers to access medical marijuana under the supervision of their health care provider.
The state Assembly has passed the Compassionate Care Act four times, but the measure has always died in the Senate.
This year seemed more promising: The Assembly included the Compassionate Care Act in its one-house budget bill for the first time, and there’s growing support for it in the Republican-led Senate. But the budget deal struck by lawmakers contains no mention of medical marijuana — of Cuomo’s plan, or the Compassionate Care Act.
That doesn’t mean the movement to legalize medical marijuana is dead.
A Wednesday Bloomberg News article suggests that Cuomo and the state Legislature are set to do battle over medical marijuana — that lawmakers are on the verge of passing the Compassionate Care Act while Cuomo would prefer to see his program enacted through executive order.
“There’s going to be some negotiating,” predicted Sen. George Maziarz, a Republican who supports the CCA. “A deal will be brokered between the governor’s program and the Compassionate Care Act.”
I’m interested in seeing this deal, as there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how a medical marijuana program in New York would actually work.
While the Compassionate Care Act would allow medical marijuana to be grown in New York, state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah has said Cuomo’s program would use marijuana provided by the federal government. Cuomo’s program also lacks funding, which has prompted some medical marijuana advocates to point out that research programs cost money — sometimes a lot of money — to run.
Advocates for medical marijuana are frustrated.
And I can’t blame them.
If I had a child with epilepsy, whose seizures could be treated with an oil derived from pot, I’d be frustrated by the state’s slow progress on legalizing marijuana, too. This isn’t a hypothetical situation that I just plucked out of the air: In December, a Buffalo TV station featured the story of Anna Conte, an 8-year-old with a form of epilepsy that can cause hundreds of seizures a day. Her mother said she planned to move to Colorado, where pot is legal, in order to obtain the drug.
Gabriel Sayegh, director of the New York chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports legalizing medical marijuana, said patients and families don’t understand the failure to include the Compassionate Care Act in the budget.
“They’re saying, ‘Wait a second — there’s nearly 90 percent support for this. There’s bipartisan support,’ ” he said.
A big proponent of the CCA, Sayegh does see merit to the governor’s plan. “The governor’s proposal is for a research program, and that could be really great,” he said. But it isn’t enough.
Will this be the year that the state finally takes the common-sense step of allowing seriously ill people to relieve their suffering with medical marijuana? I’m optimistic but uncertain.
When it comes to the inner workings of state government, well, you just never know.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at email@example.com or 395-3193. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.