Advocates Press for Medical Marijuana Bill

Gottfried bill advances in Assembly; Diane Savino new Senate sponsor
May 16, 2012

Patients suffering from serious debilitating or life-threatening conditions could be treated with medical marijuana under medical supervision under a bill key legislators announced today. The bill has substantial support among the medical community, patient groups, and religious organizations. Seventeen states have laws that allow medical use of marijuana, and a bill in Connecticut is expected to become law.

New York’s bill, A7347-A/S7283, introduced by Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried and Senate Children and Families Committee Chair Diane J. Savino, is co-sponsored by over 50 other legislators. “It would enact one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country,” they said.

The bill was favorably reported out of the Assembly Committee on Health Tuesday, May 15, with a majority of the committee’s Minority members supporting the legislation.

Gottfried and Savino were joined at an Albany press conference today by Eileen Knieczny, a New Paltz-based nurse with 18 years experience and a focus in oncology, Bruce Dunn, a Morris, NY resident who was left quadriplegic after a truck roll-over, and Wanda Hernandez, a Bronx resident with HIV/AIDS.

“If the patient and physician agree that the patient’s serious debilitating or life-threatening condition should be treated with medical marijuana, the government should not stand in the way,” said Gottfried. “It is cruel to deny treatment to patients who are suffering or to turn them into criminals.”

"As someone who has lost both parents to cancer, I understand what it is like to see a loved one in terrible pain and not be able to do anything about it," Senator Savino said. "We can help reduce the suffering of thousands of New Yorkers with this bill, and we can do so responsibly and with the appropriate amount of oversight."

Geri Barish, who lives on Long Island, is a cancer survivor and mother whose son used medical marijuana before he succumbed to cancer. “It is imperative that when people are suffering and in pain, especially with illnesses such as cancer, that there is a way of relieving this pain through medical marijuana available through the correct legal channels,” Ms. Barish said. “If it's your child or your loved one, then you would do anything. As a parent, when your child says, ‘Mommy please take the pain away’, how can a parent deny their child?"

The bill requires a patient to have a licensed health care professional who is authorized to prescribe controlled substances certify the patient’s need for marijuana for treatment of a serious debilitating or life-threatening condition. The certified patient then registers with the Department of Health. The marijuana would be purchased from a specially registered and regulated hospital or pharmacy. If there is no registered dispenser within 20 miles of the certified patient’s home, a limited quantity of home production would be allowed.

“This bill is more restrictive than the New York laws regulating highly dangerous drugs like morphine, oxycontin, or Valium,” Gottfried said.

THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, has been approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Agency in synthetic pill form since 1986. THC in pill form commonly delivers a larger dose than the patient needs or can tolerate. There is substantial medical judgment that consuming marijuana naturally makes it easier to control the dosage and symptoms are easier to manage. This method, however, remains illegal in New York.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that the federal government will not interfere in states with medical marijuana laws unless both state and federal laws were broken.

"Anyone who has watched a loved one struggle with a debilitating illness would do almost anything to help alleviate their pain," Senator Savino said. "With this proposal, we can show real compassion for New Yorkers who are suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis and other life-threatening diseases. We should give doctors the best options to make decisions for their patients and allow much needed relief and comfort."

“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,” Assembly Member Gottfried added.

“As an attorney and staffer for a New York City Council member, I worry about losing my license for breaking the law and the impact that a criminal charge might have on my employer,” said Jamin Sewell, who lives with Multiple Sclerosis. “I want to continue serving my community as long as I am physically able to do so, and I am convinced that using medical marijuana will enable me to continue to be productive and improve my quality of life.” Sewell lives in the Bronx.

"Without legal access to medical marijuana, I have no option aside from expensive narcotic pain killers that are hazardous to my health and severely addictive," said Joel Peacock of Buffalo. Mr. Peacock survived a severe car accident, but had three discs removed from his back. After running out of prescription opioids to manage his debilitating pain, he tried marijuana and found it provided relief.

"I don't feel I should live as a criminal for doing what's best for my health," said Bruce Dunn, a veteran, father, and grandfather living in Morris, NY. Mr. Dunn, who was diagnosed with quadriplegia following a tragic truck roll-over accident, now lives in constant, severely debilitating pain.

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.”

"We are talking about people with chronic diseases, and we are talking about a medicine that not only provides relief from debilitating symptoms but also helps patients get through difficult treatment such as chemotherapy,” said Dr. Howard Grossman, a board-certified physician in Internal Medicine with 20 years of experience treating patients and doing research. “Marijuana, like every medicine, deserves regulation but not criminalization."

A Siena poll released today found a “strong majority” of New Yorkers support the legalization of the use of medical marijuana 57%-33%. When polled two years ago, the proposal was supported 50%-41%.

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
  • Latino Commission on AIDS
  • Family Services Network of New York Inc.
  • Drug Policy Alliance
  • Compassion & Choices of New York
  • Gray Panthers, NYC Network

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.