By Ben Oreskes, Albany Times-Union, July 30
Under pressure from advocates for those with epilepsy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked acting state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to evaluate whether there’s a way to speed up the rollout of the state’s medical marijuana program.
“Striking the right balance to ensure public safety and public health are protected is crucial,” Cuomo wrote in a letter released Wednesday. “That said, I ask that you review the 18-month implementation timeline to determine if there is any way to accelerate the process for this specific dire population.”
On Monday, Cuomo’s deputy secretary for civil rights, Alphonso David, joined Zucker and other Health Department officials for a meeting with 12 medical marijuana advocates.
One of the participants, Christine Emerson of Rochester, voiced cautious optimism about Cuomo’s correspondence with Zucker.
“It’s great if what (Cuomo) is saying is true,” Emerson said Wednesday, “and not just another ploy.”
East Greenbush resident Melissa Hilt, whose daughter suffers from seizures, is on the board of the Medical Cannabis Industry Alliance of New York. She says Cuomo’s letter could mean her daughter will receive lifesaving medicine sooner.
“It’s good to know New York state is serious in making sure our medical marijuana program does not stay in neutral,” said Hilt in a statement. “There is too much at stake.”
Over the past several weeks, three children in the Buffalo area have died from seizures. The main legislative sponsors of the push for medical marijuana sent the governor a letter earlier this week recommending several ways to expedite the program — including amending the new state law and having the federal government grant waivers that would allow New York patients to bring medicinal marijuana from other states.
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, said in a statement Wednesday that the Health Department should rely on organizations with good track records in other states to subcontract with New York “grow houses.”
“Even if the Health Department somehow approved ‘registered organizations’ tomorrow, it would be months before they could set up operations and grow seeds into mature plants to be processed,” Gottfried said.
Others familiar with the development of medical marijuana in other states said New York’s Health Department could simply speed up writing the regulations, or select one trusted and reputable grower to begin setting up facilities now.