Updates from the Committee on Health

Medical Marijuana

Testimony by Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried
New York City Council Hearing
Friday, November 18, 2011

My name is Richard N. Gottfried. I chair the Health Committee in the New York State Assembly and I am the author and introducer of the New York medical marijuana bill, A. 7347. I urge the City Council to pass resolution 0094-2010 supporting the bill.

Thousands of New Yorkers who suffer from serious debilitating and life-threatening conditions would benefit from the medical use of marijuana under a physician’s care. It would reduce their pain and other symptoms, enable them to tolerate their medication, and extend their lives.

Medical marijuana legislation is supported by a broad array of health and other organizations, including:

  • Medical Society of the State of New York
  • New York State Nurses Association
  • Hospice and Palliative Care Association of New York State
  • Pharmacists Society of the State of New York
  • Statewide Senior Action Council
  • Gay Men’s Health Crisis
  • New York AIDS Coalition
  • New York State AIDS Institute Advisory Council
  • Oncology Nursing Association (New York State chapter)
  • Association of the Bar of the City of New York
  • American Academy of HIV Medicine
  • AFSCME District Council 37
  • Housing Works

Nationally, legalizing the medical use of marijuana is supported by the American Public Health Association, the American Bar Association, and the Lymphoma Foundation of America, among others. The medical use of marijuana is recognized by the American Medical Association and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science.

Under appropriate professional care like other drugs, marijuana has important therapeutic use for many seriously ill patients. In their amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004, the Lymphoma Foundation of America, the HIV Medicine Association, and the American Medical Students Association said: "For certain persons, the medical use of marijuana can literally mean the difference between life and death."

The Federal Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Agency have approved the medical use of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in synthetic pill form, since 1986. However, many patients and their doctors find that consuming marijuana naturally makes the dosage easier to limit and control, and that the efficacy of THC is enhanced and symptoms are easier to manage. Patients complain that the harder-to-limit dosage in pill form interferes with the patient’s ability to work and live a more normal life. The choice ought to be made by the patient and physician. It should not be a law enforcement issue.

The New York medical marijuana bill has more restrictive controls than any medical marijuana law in the country, with the possible exception of New Jersey. It is more restrictive than the New York laws regulating highly dangerous drugs like morphine, oxycontin, or Valium.

The bill would set up a strict and narrow medical marijuana system. The bill allows a practitioner (who is licensed to prescribe controlled substances) to certify that a patient has a serious condition (under statutory criteria) that can and should be treated with the medical use of marijuana. A certified patient or designated caregiver who is registered with the Health Department can possess a limited amount of marijuana for the patient’s medical use.

The Department of Health would license and regulate “registered organizations” to dispense medical marijuana for certified patients. Registered organizations can be: pharmacies, licensed hospitals or clinics, the state or a county health department, or not-for-profit corporations developed for this specific purpose (only if DOH finds other entities are not available in an area). DOH would also license and regulate producers.

The bill would also tax the gross receipts of registered organizations.

The notion that anyone would use the medical marijuana system to obtain marijuana for recreation use is absurd. A person would need a doctor willing to risk his or her license to certify that the person has a statutorily-defined serious condition treatable with marijuana, file his or her name and address with the state, and get the drug from a state-licensed dispenser with more state paperwork. Doing all that to get marijuana for recreational use would be a misdemeanor – tougher than the current penalty for possessing a small amount, which is like a littering ticket.

Some say that more research should be done. There is no argument against doing more research; we do research even on well-established drugs and procedures. However, since marijuana is a natural and unpatentable product, no drug company is going to spend the millions of dollars needed for clinical trials. The thousands of people whose suffering could be eased and lives prolonged by medical marijuana should not be forced to wait for research that no one has offered to fund.

The fact that smoking is not good for you is no argument against this legislation. Virtually every drug can have harmful side effects. And we are talking about relieving the suffering of people with severe, debilitating and life-threatening conditions, using marijuana under medical oversight.

Dr. Robert M. Glickman, when he was the dean of the NYU School of Medicine wrote in support of the legislation:

“We agree that marijuana is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known and it has a wide variety of therapeutic applications for a number of medical conditions and diseases such as AIDS/HIV, glaucoma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. The availability of medical marijuana will prove to be an effective pain management technique for a number of NYU’s patients.”

This is sensible, strict and humane legislation. The fact that this is not the law in New York is political correctness run amok, at the expense of the suffering of thousands of our fellow New Yorkers.