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Gannett: Lawmakers Made Final Push for Medical Marijuana Reforms

By Joseph Spector, 6/8

ALBANY — Advocates for expanding the state’s medical-marijuana program said Wednesday they will push for a package of reforms to be approved by the state Legislature before the legislative session ends next week.

The state’s medical-marijuana program, which started Jan. 1, allows patients with serious illnesses to get the drug in non-smokeable forms. But the program has been beset with criticism for limited access and not enough doctors being able to prescribe the drug.

“Due to a lack of physician participation and a highly restrictive list of conditions, there are simply not enough patients to able to access what was supposed to be a ‘compassionate’ system,” Kate Hintz, a North Salem, Westchester County, mother, said at a Capitol news conference.

Hintz’ five-year-old daughter, Morgan, suffers from a rare form of epilepsy.

“We were told that New York’s program would be an example of how to get medical marijuana right, and instead we have fallen far short of that goal,” she said.

Lawmakers, patients and parents said they are seeking three bills to change the law — called the Compassionate Care Act — to allow more people to get the drug. The session ends next Thursday.

The proposals would allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to recommend medical marijuana for their patients; add chronic pain as an eligible medical condition; and expand the types of medical marijuana available to children with intractable epilepsy.

The health department last year approved five companies to distribute medical marijuana at 20 dispensaries.

The five manufacturing facilities are in Queens; Rochester; Fulton County, near Amsterdam; Warren County, in the North Country; and Orange County, in the Hudson Valley.

Dispensing sites will include ones in Johnson City, Broome County; Yonkers and White Plains in Westchester County; one in Rochester; and one in Kingston.

So far, 583 physicians have registered to prescribe medical-marijuana, and 4,081 patients have been certified by their doctors, the state Health Department said.

But medical-marijuana advocates said the numbers are small compared to the 90,000 doctors and 200,000 patients who could benefit from the drug.

They have criticized the state’s onerous process to get medical-marijuana to patients, and the health department’s refusal to release a public list of doctors who are licensed to prescribe medical marijuana.

“Keeping that list secret from the public I think severely limits access for patients, and I think is a violation of the Freedom of Information law,” said Assembly Health Committee chairman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, who is sponsoring the bills.