Assembly Health Committee Holds Long Island Hearing on Medical Marijuana in Advance of 2014 Legislative Session

Press Release December 17, 2013
Media Contact

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

Mineola — Today, dozens of patients and caregivers of those living with cancer, multiple sclerosis, severe seizure disorders, and other serious, debilitating medical conditions gathered in Mineola for a hearing of the NY State Assembly Health Committee. This hearing follows one held earlier this month in Buffalo, where the room was filled with supporters.

With compelling personal testimonies and presentations of the scientific evidence, patients and healthcare providers called on the New York State Legislature to 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 a bipartisan vote; it was the fourth time the Assembly passed the measure. But the Senate did not take up the measure,  nor has it held hearings to consider it, leaving patients and their families to suffer.

“When it’s your child who can’t help himself and is literally withering away in pain, you’d do anything to take that pain away,” said Geri Barish a cancer survivor from Long Island, whose son used medical marijuana before succumbing to cancer himself. “When people are suffering, we can at least give them their dignity.”

Twenty states and the District of Columbia now currently have medical marijuana laws. A Siena Poll last May found that an overwhelming 82% of New York voters support medical marijuana, including 81% of both Republicans and Democrats.

“My son, Liam, suffers from a severe seizure disorder. Children with similar conditions in Colorado have really benefited from taking medical marijuana,” said Julie Ann Sigler Baum of East Hampton. “My son deserves the right to at least try this potentially life-saving medicine, but right now, because medical marijuana is not legal in New York, my family must sit by helplessly waiting for our leaders to in Albany to do the right thing and pass the Compassionate Care Act.”

New Jersey recently expanded its medical marijuana program to cover children, like Liam, 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.

“The Health Committee wanted to hear from New Yorkers what they think about this issue,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried. “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.”

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.

“I have been living with a diagnosis of MS for 16 years, and I’d like the option of talking to my doctors about trying medical cannabis to help ease my pain and spasticity. It’s time for our leaders in Albany to listen to the vast majority of New Yorkers who support this bill and show some compassion,” said Pam Chait-Ross, a mother of two from Baldwin.

“I have supported the Compassionate Care Act for years on behalf of the thousands of our clients who have suffered with weight loss, gastritis, angina, and cancers secondary to HIV,” said Janet Weinberg, Interim Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of GMHC. “When I was diagnosed with breast cancer last spring, I became personally invested in passing the bill, knowing that medical marijuana could have helped me tolerate the harsh treatments has it been legal. I am angry and saddened by the lack of medical marijuana as a possible treatment for me and so many others.”

“As a woman living with HIV, I have experienced first-hand the effects of medical marijuana in combating nausea, stimulating appetite and alleviating suffering due to neuropathic pain,” said Wanda Hernandez of New York City. “I'm asking our legislators to stop treating me like a criminal for using medical marijuana as another tool to function as a mother, grandmother and community member.”

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

“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. Howard Grossman, chair of NY Physicians for Compassionate Care. “That’s why I and more than 600 other New York physicians 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.

“Right now, patients and families in New York are forced to choose between the law, moving out of state, or suffering needlessly,” said gabriel sayegh, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s time to stop treating patients like criminals, it’s time to restore compassion in New York. 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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