Assembly Health Committee Holds Hearings in Buffalo on Medical Marijuana in Advance of 2014 Legislative Session

Press Release December 4, 2013
Media Contact

<p>Contact:&nbsp; Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or gabriel sayegh 646-335-2264</p>

Buffalo — Today, dozens of patients and caregivers of those living with cancer, multiple sclerosis, severe seizure disorders, and other serious, debilitating medical conditions gathered in Buffalo for a hearing of the NY State Assembly Health Committee. In a series of compelling personal testimonies, they demanded that the New York State Senate pass the Compassionate Care Act — A.6357-A(Gottfried) / S.4406-A (Savino). The bill would create one of the nation’s most tightly regulated medical marijuana programs, allowing seriously ill patients access to a small amount of marijuana under the supervision of their healthcare provider.

Earlier this year, the Assembly passed the bill with bipartisan vote of 99-41, the widest margin of the four times the bill has been passed in that chamber. But the bill was never taken up for a vote in the Senate, leaving patients to suffer.  Patients and healthcare providers gathered in Buffalo to demand that legislators take up the issue when they return to Albany in January.

“The Health Committee wanted to hear from New Yorkers what they think about this issue,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried, noting that 20 states and the District of Columbia currently have medical marijuana laws.  “If the patient and physician agree that a severe debilitating or life-threatening condition should be treated with medical marijuana, the government should not stand in the way. This is sensible, strict, and humane legislation.”

A Siena Poll last May found that an overwhelming 82% of New York voters support medical marijuana, including 81% of both Republicans and Democrats.

“I cared from my cousin who had MS for the last ten years of his life and saw first-hand how medical marijuana eased his suffering,” said Rev. Eugene Pierce, Criminal Justice Chair of NAACP-Buffalo. “When he went into a nursing home, he could no longer access medical marijuana and suffered greatly for no reason.  It’s for my cousin and the thousands like him that I support the Compassionate Care Act.”

Support for the measure at the hearing was strong, with many expressing frustration that patients in New York continue to suffer, while those in surrounding states where medical marijuana is legal have access to a medication that has been proven to help a number of serious conditions.

“My son, Thomas, suffers from a severe seizure disorder. Children with similar conditions in Colorado have really benefited from taking medical marijuana,” said Mark Williams of Lockport who travelled to the hearing with his wife and son. “Along with many other families, our family is now faced with a terrible choice. We can stay in New York and watch our child suffer and slowly die, or we can forfeit our jobs, pensions, health care, and our homes to relocate to one of the twenty states that allow the use of medical marijuana to treat children like our son.”

Twenty states and the District Columbia have passed laws creating legal access to medical marijuana for seriously ill patients, and New Jersey recently expanded its medical marijuana program to cover children, like Thomas, who suffer from serve seizure disorders. Physicians in every state bordering New York – except Pennsylvania – have the ability to recommend this effective and safe treatment for their patients.

“I live with multiple sclerosis, and I know that medical marijuana can make difficult illnesses easier to bear by alleviating some of the worst symptoms,” said Susan Rusinko, a mother from Auburn.  She added, “It’s time for our leaders in Albany to do the compassionate and humane thing and to pass this bill. We can’t wait any longer.”
“I proudly served my country as a U.S. marine, “said Ssgt Mark DiPasquale USMC Medically Retired and Founder and President of Veteran's For Alternative Care.  “I never imagined when I came home, I would be denied the medication that most helps me cope with my service-related conditions”

The bill also enjoys wide support from healthcare providers and organizations, such as the New York State Nurses Association, the Collaborative for Palliative Care, GMHC, New York State Pharmacists Society, the New York State Psychological Association, and the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of New York. NY Physicians for Compassionate Care, a group representing more than 600 NY physicians, also support the bill.

“A significant body of scientific evidence has established the efficacy of medical cannabis for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, pain and muscle spasms and to stimulate appetite and weight gain in patients with wasting syndromes. In addition, medical cannabis is safer than many of the medications physicians routinely prescribe,” said Dr. Grossman, chair of NY Physicians for Compassionate Care. “That’s why I and more than 600 other New York doctors support the creation of a state-regulated, well-controlled system for insuring that seriously ill patients can access medical marijuana under the supervision of their healthcare provider as outlined in the New York legislation."

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have effectively blocked the standard Food and Drug Administration (FDA) development process that would allow for the marijuana plant to be brought to market as a prescription medicine. That is why twenty states have moved ahead to alleviate the suffering of their residents by creating medical marijuana programs.

“The DEA and NIDA have successfully created a catch-22 for American patients, doctors, and scientists by denying that marijuana is a medicine because it is not approved by the FDA, while simultaneously obstructing the very research that would be required for FDA to approve marijuana as a medicine," said Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a physician and researcher. “Not only that, federal agencies have allowed private international pharmaceutical companies to conduct large, adequate and well-controlled clinical studies with marijuana in the US but refuse to apply that scientific data towards rescheduling marijuana. Having worked in a jurisdiction with a legal medical marijuana program, I know that cannabis is an effective medicine that can be safely regulated by states,” he added.

“We’ve heard a number of heart-wrenching stories today about New Yorkers who are faced with choosing between breaking the law, moving out of state, or suffering needlessly,” said gabriel sayegh, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “New Yorkers overwhelming favor this bill as do hundreds of healthcare providers across the state, dozens of organizations, and thousands of patients.  It’s time to stop treating patients like criminals.  It’s time to pass the Compassionate Care Act.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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