Medical marijuana could be coming to New York sooner than later, with a plan from Gov. Andrew Cuomo coming in a few days that could allow hospitals to dispense the herb.
Members of Cuomo’s staff leaked the plan Saturday to State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a medical marijuana advocate who has pushed for legislation in the past. Gottfried called the program “limited and cumbersome,” but conceded that it’s a step in the right direction.
“I’m thrilled that the governor has taken this action,” Gottfried told The New York Times. “This is a very key interim step.”
The details of the plan are under wraps so far, but so far it seems that the New York Department of Public Health would handle the program, which would allow twenty hospitals to “prescribe” cannabis to patients with cancer, glaucoma and a handful of other diseases. Of course, if the actual language of the bill requires doctors to actually prescribe it and not just recommend it, then the program is doomed to fail as doctors can’t prescribe a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
Either way, the program would be ideally be up and running sometime this year.
The move is a pretty big turnaround for Cuomo, who has been vocally opposed to legalization efforts thus far in his state. Some say it has a lot to do with a growing progressive attitude nationwide as well as a little spark from neighboring New Jersey The New York Times quotes someone closely associated with Coumo as saying that New Jersey’s tightly-controlled program showed the governor that sick people can access the medicine without the program being abused.
Cuomo’s program would also sidestep legislative approval (or denial) by using an-already existing provision in the state’s public health laws to allow for controlled substances for “cancer patients, glaucoma patients, and patients afflicted with other diseases as such diseases are approved by the commissioner.” The bill, known as the Antonio G. Olivieri Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Program is named for a former New York City councilman who died at 39 in 1980 from complications of brain tumors. Olivieri used cannabis at the time to help control the nausea and pain from chemotherapy.
The law was passed that same year.
Gottfried says the Olivieri Program hasn’t ever caught on because of the “elaborate administrative process” that would be overly burdensome on patients. Another problem are laws prohibiting New Yorkers from growing medical cannabis (as well as those pesky federal laws, too).
Some say the program may have to rely on cannabis from the feds themselves, or law enforcement – and if that’s the case then sick and ill New Yorkers who might benefit from medical cannabis would do better to simply move to New Jersey.
Cuomo plans to formally unveil the program Wednesday at this State of the state address.