While it will be at least two months before the majority of New York medical marijuana patients have access to medicine, those who qualify as critically ill will now be able to receive it sooner. Governor Andrew Cuomo approved two bills establishing an “emergency medical marijuana” program in the Empire State. This program permits the Department of Health to accelerate the accessibility of medical cannabis products to the states’ critically ill patients.
Now, in cases where delaying the use of cannabis may pose serious health risks and patients suffering from progressive or degenerative conditions will be able to obtain to a state license granting them immediate access to medical marijuana before the state’s medical cannabis program officially launches in 2016. Governor Cuomo, included a statement with his signature approving the emergency program,
“I deeply sympathized with New Yorkers suffering from serious illness, and I appreciate that medical marijuana may alleviate their chronic pain and debilitating symptoms.”
The Health Department will now be permitted to register additional medical cannabis producers who may be able to provide products more quickly or “as soon as practicable.” The programs’ partial goal will be to give preference to those already operating in other legal states that may be able to provide medical cannabis products “in a more expeditious manner.”
While the approval of the emergency program is a great news for many, it is bittersweet for at least one New York family. Sarah Newton and her husband lost their daughter Olivia, while waiting for the program to be implemented so that they could treat her with legal medical marijuana.
“We’re elated that this has passed and at the same time we’re heartbroken, we’re absolutely heartbroken,”
Newton said, explaining that she wishes action could have been taken sooner.
A year ago, lawmakers in New York passed legislation that would permit residents to use medical marijuana to treat a number of disorders. That event started an 18-month timeline during which companies that wish to grow and distribute cannabis will be licensed. License applications are currently being accepted in the Empire State.
The clock is ticking, and patients are still waiting. Patients like a little girl who stood by the governor’s side as he signed the bill into law. Amanda Houser (photo below) has a rare form of epilepsy and was thrilled that she would have access to treatment that would help her condition.
“She really shined that day, knowing that she might get the medicine.”
Reported Amanda’s mother,
“She asks: ‘When am I going to get it?’ She’s tired of being different from the other kids.”
As patients wait, both Democrats and Republicans in New York are looking for short-term solutions that would help patients with urgent needs. A pending bill would allow people like children with severe epilepsy to have emergency access to medical marijuana. Lawmakers hope the bill will pass before the end of the legislative term on June 17.
New York is planning to grant five private marijuana growers with contracts to open four dispensaries each. Doctors would have to prescribe cannabis to patients, like Sue Nill Kidera (photo below), a 58-year-old woman with colon cancer who believes that using medical marijuana will treat her symptoms of nausea and pain. She said the wait has been frustrating.
Governor Andrew Cuomo had wanted to get emergency access in place quickly, but he was met with federal government roadblocks. A spokesperson for the governor emphasized that the top priority is to help people who are in pain. Unfortunately, in order to avoid legal complications and unnecessary delays, New York must work within federal guidelines.
Another explanation for the delay is the large number of questions that growers have posed during the application process. According to reports, dozens and possibly hundreds of companies wish to grow or distribute medical marijuana. The applications and ensuing contracts will not be approved until at least July with a target of having the system ready to go in January 2016.
Patients like Amanda Houser and Sue Nill Kidera are more concerned with what is happening now. Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, who has championed legalized medical marijuana, echoes that sentiment.
“My biggest concern right now is how long it’s going to take for the children with epilepsy and other people with real life-threatening conditions to get any medication.”
In addition to benefitting patients, the medical marijuana industry will also be a boost for the state’s research institutions and economy. GreenWave Advisors, a marijuana research firm, estimates that medical cannabis in New York could become a $1 billion a year industry over the next five years.
photo credit: AP, Jamie Germano