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Politico NY: Assembly health committee advances medical marijuana bills

By Josefa Velasquez, 4/12/16


Assembly Member Richard Gottfried (AP Photo / Tim Roske)

ALBANY — The Assembly health committee on Monday advanced two pieces of legislation that would expand the state’s medical marijuana program.

The bills, sponsored by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, who chairs the chamber’s health committee and is one of the architects of the state’s so-called Compassionate Care Act, would eliminate the requirement that the registered organizations charged with growing and distributing marijuana be vertically integrated and would double the amount of companies in the state’s program.

Gottfried’s bills would allow medical marijuana companies to expand the program from the four companies that are currently operating in the state, to eight.

Both bills were reported out of committee, readying them for a vote on the Assembly floor. Three members of the committee voted against them: Republicans Andy Goodell and Andrew Garbarino, as well as Democrat Sandy Galef.

“We have a program that is tied in up restrictions that make really no economic or political or public safety sense,” Gottfried said during a medical marijuana rally outside the Senate chambers after the committee meeting ended. “We treat medical marijuana with restrictions that nobody would tolerate if we tried to apply them for any of the other controlled substances that are prescribed hundreds of thousands of times a day in New York.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the state’s medical marijuana program into law in July 2014, after his administrations made some tweaks to the bill that had been pushed by Gottfried and Sen. Diane Savino. Eighteen months later, the Compassionate Care Act went into effect, allowing patients with a serious medical conditions to purchase the schedule one drug.

Since its inception in January, the state’s Department of Health estimates that 526 physicians have taken the online medical marijuana course which allows them to certify that a patient is eligible for the program. As of Monday, 2,675 patients have been certified by their doctors.

As POLITICO New York first reported, as of late March, DOH estimates that about half of the certified patients have received the drug. Still, advocates for medical marijuana want the program to be more expansive. Both Gottfried and Savino have introduced bills in the hopes of doing just that.

“We have a law that is enabling a very small number of New Yorkers to get the medication that they desperately need,” Gottfried said at the rally. “But there are tens of thousands of new Yorkers who are not able to get access to the medication they need. And even the couple of thousand who are now registered find that they have to travel often hundreds of miles.

“It is time to clean up the legislation and get rid of the obstacles that are in the legislation,” he added. “It’s time to clean up the regulations and get rid of the regulations that make no sense so we can have registered organizations and dispensaries that can operate efficiently.”