Currently there are 23 states with some form of legalized access to cannabis. Most of these states have severely restricted the ability of people in need to actually get the cannabis that will likely help them or their loved one with the myriad of illnesses that cannabis can help to treat. Illinois, New York, Nevada, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and even Colorado are having issues with medical patients getting access to what they need.
Here’s a story from New York. The daughter of the main interviewee has a terrible form of epilepsy that can kill…
ALBANY – The fate of legislation meant to speed up New York’s not-yet-launched medical marijuana program remains in flux.
The state Legislature passed a bill in mid-June that would allow the Department of Health to suspend certain regulations in order to allow a company to produce and distribute the drug to chronically ill patients prior to the program’s official launch.
That bill, however, has not yet been formally sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk, an official act that would start a 10-day clock for the Democrat to sign or veto it.
And with the state awarding its five available medical-marijuana growing licenses last week, it’s unclear whether there would be enough time for one of those companies to get up-and-running before January, when the state’s full program is scheduled to launch.
“We are still pushing for it to get signed,” said Julie Netherland, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s great that the (registered organizations) were announced, but our concern remains that the program could be delayed and further delay access to patients who are critically ill.”
Under a 2014 law, the state Department of Health is required to launch its full medical-marijuana program by Jan. 5, 2016. But that date can be delayed until the health commissioner and State Police superintendent certify that the program can be implemented “in accordance with public health and safety interests.”
If the June bill is signed by Cuomo, the health department would be required to create a “special certification” for patients with a “progressive and degenerative” disease or those whose life or health is at risk without the drug.
Those patients would be allowed access to marijuana-based prescriptions before the full program launches, and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker would be able to suspend agency rules to allow a license holder to distribute the drug early.
The emergency-access bill was largely spurred by concerns from parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy, who traveled many times to the state Capitol to advocate for its passage. Some strains of medical marijuana — New York’s plan only allows non-smokeable forms — have shown promise for taming epileptic seizures.
Cuomo has not signaled whether he supports the bill. Since it hasn’t yet been sent to his desk by the state Assembly, he has not yet been forced to act on it. The sponsoring house of the Legislature and Cuomo’s office traditionally make joint decisions on when to send legislation to the governor’s desk.
In a statement Friday, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said the Democrat’s administration will keep “all practical options open to ensure that those in pain receive the treatment they need as quickly as possible.”
“Our goal has always been to deliver relief to those in need and we’re pleased that the Compassionate Care Act is on track to have one of the shortest and swiftest implementation periods of any medical marijuana program in the nation,” he said.
Even if Cuomo signs the bill, it’s unclear whether any of the five license holders — each of whom can have one growing center and four dispensaries spread across the state — would be able to cultivate marijuana prior to Jan. 5, the deadline the state says it is working to meet.
Marijuana is a banned substance at the federal level, meaning it would be illegal to import grown marijuana from other states. A waiver request by Cuomo’s administration to allow it to import plants from other states was denied earlier this year.
Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, was the prime Senate sponsor of the state’s 2014 law creating the medical-marijuana program. She opposed the emergency-access bill, saying it will stifle efforts to get a more broad-based program up and running.
“Even if you wanted to issue a separate license for one group, they wouldn’t be able to do it any sooner,” Savino said Friday. “There’s really no opportunity to move it any quicker. You have to grow it in your own state. You have to process it in your own state.”
The sponsors of the emergency-access bill, however, say the legislation is still relevant and called on Cuomo to sign it.
Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, Oneida County, sponsored the bill in the Legislature’s upper chamber despite voting against the 2014 medical-marijuana law.
“The impetus for the bill was to find a way to help particularly these children who need immediate access, some form or manner of an opportunity to get that,” said Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, Oneida County. “That continues, from my perspective, to be relevant, because they still don’t have that access.”
At least one advocate said she’s not optimistic that any form of emergency access to the drug will come before January.
“I’m not hopeful, I guess,” said Kate Hintz, a North Salem, Westchester County, resident whose 4-year-old daughter, Morgan, suffers from Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy.
She continued: “I think it’s looking like January, if not the end of January. The state hasn’t let us know when we can register as patients. With the lack of details, I’m sort of losing my excitement over the whole program.”