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NY Gov. Signs Emergency MMJ Bill

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Photo by Gracie Malley


NY Gov. Signs Emergency MMJ Bill

Patients who are considered critically ill might not have to wait for New York to launch its full-scale medical marijuana program in January 2016 to gain access to medicine.

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a set of bills into law intended to give patients suffering from terminal conditions the ability to get their hands on medical cannabis prior to the official program going public.

At the eleventh hour, Governor Cuomo responded to the pleas of a number of severely ill patients by signing the “Emergency Access” legislation into law. The bills, which received an overwhelming response in the state legislature over the summer, were sent to Cuomo’s office at the end of October for his signature or veto. Although an initial statement from the governor’s office suggested that he would “review the legislation in the context of implementing the Compassionate Care Act,” Cuomo moved forward with some action.

“I deeply sympathize with New Yorkers suffering from serious illness and I appreciate that medical marijuana may alleviate their chronic pain and debilitating symptoms,” Cuomo said in a statement attached to the signed bills. “I am also mindful, however, of the overarching authority, jurisdiction and oversight of the federal government.”

It would not be inaccurate to suggest that the Governor may have been forcefully persuaded to put this legislation to work. After all, Cuomo has not exactly been a strong supporter of these bills or the full medical marijuana program pushed through the state legislature in 2014. Some lawmakers have said that the governor is the primary reason the Compassionate Care Act came out as restrictive as it is.

State Senator Savino, who was instrumental in the passing of the Compassionate Care Act, even went so far as to call the governor out during a meeting hosted last year by the International Cannabis Association, saying that Cuomo “was not interested in medical marijuana…and, in fact, told me so on more than one occasion.”

Comments like this, connected with official statements from the governor’s office that suggest emergency access would only receive some consideration, is a pretty good indication that Cuomo’s decision to sign was not done with a smile.

Although some lawmakers, like Senator Joseph Griffo, felt strongly that the governor would sign the emergency access bills, there was a level of apprehensiveness for the importance of such a measure due to its failure to consider the overall goal of the state’s medical marijuana program.  After the bills were approved in the legislature, Senator Savino argued that it was important “to stay on the course we have set” and to forget about legislation that only caters to a select few.

Unfortunately, while the emergency access plan sounds great at face value, there are some obvious problems that may prevent it from actually helping patients who need it most.

In order for a terminally ill patient to begin purchasing medical marijuana, their primary care physician must first write them a certification. This is a problem because some of the latest reports suggest few doctors have expressed a willingness to participate in the program. A recent poll found that only 1 out of 500 New York doctors said they planned to provide recommendations for their patients once the program got underway. To make things worse, the State Health Department is requiring interested physicians to go through a $250, 4-hour online training course before they can participate. Health officials have refused to divulge just how many physicians are currently enrolled.

With only two months until New York launches its full program, it seems doubtful that any patient will reap the benefits of the governor’s latest action.

Should every state have an emergency medical cannabis program? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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