Top Tags

Albany Times-Union: With program running, advocates look for medical marijuana expansion

By Matthew Hamilton, 4/12

Medical marijuana advocates are again striking up their calls to expand the state’s program as some lawmakers say the program needs more gestation time after officially going live in January

The advocates and lawmakers pushing expansion have pointed to a lackluster first three months for the program, with 526 physicians registered through the state to participate and 2,675 patients certified to use the drug by their doctors. At the same time, dispensaries run by the five companies licensed to sell the drug have opened gradually rather than at once in January.

A call to action on Tuesday came as lawmakers prepared for a two-week recess. When they return May 3, they will have two months to take legislative action before the close of session.

Medical marijuana advocacy in the second half of the legislative session is a familiar sight at the Capitol, and it has led to results. In 2014, a press in the back-half of the legislative session led to the passage of the Compassionate Care Act, the legislation that created the medical marijuana program. In 2015, advocacy led to passage in June of a bill allowing for a parallel expedited access program to be set up. That bill was signed in November

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed caution when it comes to modifying a program that is still quite new, there are those who see a path toward breaking through his cautious shell by this June.

“At this point in 2014, the governor as still saying no way, no how,” Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried said. “This is a governor who can look and learn.”

The supporters of expansion point to eight pieces of legislation (three of which have been introduced in the Assembly and Senate) that would authorize nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe the drug, add eight more medical conditions to the list of those that can be treated and lift dosage limits, and establish an advisory committee to help the state Health commissioner implement the program, among other things. None of the bills introduced in both houses have come anywhere near an up-or-down vote on the floor this year.

The Cuomo administration will review the legislation, a spokesman said.

An Assembly-only bill would open up the use of medical marijuana for severe or chronic pain, a condition more traditionally treated with opioid medications.

Prohibitions on medical marijuana use for such pain remain in place as state elected officials continue to push back with gusto against heroin and opioid addiction. Cuomo at an event in Manhattan Tuesday called combatting heroin addiction one of his priorities for the final months of the session. In their push for expansion, the advocates say medical marijuana may provide an alternative to the use of opioid pain killers, a gateway to addiction for some patients.

“God help us, we need to include the patients with severe chronic pain … to try to diminish the epidemic of opiate and heroin abuse,” Susan Rusinko, a multiple sclerosis patient from Cayuga County, said. • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10