New York State Assembly Passes Bill to Allow Medicinal Use of Marijuana in New York State

Press Release June 2, 2013
Media Contact

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

New York: Earlier today, the New York State Assembly passed the Compassionate Care Act (A.6357/Gottfried) by a vote of 95 to 38.  The bill, which would create one the most tightly regulated medical marijuana programs in the country, would alleviate the suffering of thousands of seriously ill New Yorkers by allowing the use of marijuana to treat debilitating, life-threatening illnesses under a doctor’s supervision.

The Compassionate Care Act – A.6357 (Gottfried) / S. 4406 (Savino) – would allow practitioners to talk to their patients about medical marijuana and certify those with serious, debilitating illnesses, so that they may have access to a small amount of medical marijuana to relieve their symptoms.

“New Yorkers living with cancer, multiple scleroses, HIV/AIDS and other serious illnesses have waited long enough,” said gabriel sayegh, State Director of DPA’s New York Policy Office.  “This is a simple matter of compassion.  This is the fourth time the State Assembly has passed a medical marijuana bill. Now it’s long past time for the State Senate to act. The science is clear. The moral and ethical needs are obvious. The only thing holding this up is the Senate.  Listen to the science, to healthcare practitioners, and to the vast majority of New Yorkers who support this proposal.  It’s time for the Senate to pass the Compassionate Care Act.”

The bill has the support of hundreds of patients and providers and dozens of organizations across the state; a recent Siena poll found that 82% of New Yorkers support medical marijuana, including 81% of both Republicans and Democrats.

 “I have suffered from excruciating nausea and pain from the many chemotherapy treatments I have undergone,” said Nancy Rivera of Troy, a survivor of two bouts of breast cancer, colon cancer and throat cancer. “During a series of chemo and radiation treatments, I lost 40 pounds in 3 months. I have never used medical marijuana since it is not legal; however, I think all cancer patients should have the legal option of trying medical marijuana if their provider recommends it.”

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, NY Physicians for Compassionate Care, and the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of New York.

“We applaud the Assembly for taking this step and passing the Compassionate Care Act. The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) supports this legislation because it creates a carefully controlled system allowing seriously ill New Yorkers access to the therapeutic and palliative benefits of medical marijuana under the supervision of their healthcare provider,” said Jill Furillo, Executive Director, NYSNA.

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg ran afoul of medical science when he called medical marijuana “one the great hoaxes of all time.”  A day earlier, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine released a survey of physicians finding that 76% of those surveyed would approve medical marijuana for use to reduce pain in a cancer patient.  That same day NY Physicians for Compassionate Care announced that more than 600 New York physicians from all across state support medical marijuana and want to be able recommend its use to seriously ill patients who might benefit from its use. May 30 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine states that 76 percent of surveyed doctors said they would approve medical marijuana to help reduce the pain for an older woman with advanced breast cancer

“This is a medication, far safer than many of the medications we already use, that has been proven effective for chronic and neuropathic pain, appetite stimulation, and nausea” said Howard Grossman, MD, a New York City-based physician and Chair of NY Physicians for Compassionate Care. “As doctors, we want to do what’s best for our patients and that includes recommending medical marijuana for some patients.  We urge the Senate to do the sensible and humane thing and pass the Compassionate Care Act now.”

Eighteen other states and the District Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws; with the exception of Pennsylvania, New York is now surrounded by states that permit legal access to medical marijuana. 

"More and more doctors are using medical marijuana in states where it is legal. It doesn't make sense that doctors in New York cannot use medical marijuana in their practice,” said Craig D. Blinderman, MD, MA, Director, Adult Palliative Care Services, Co-Director, Center for Supportive Care and Clinical Ethics, Department of Medicine, Columbia University.

Despite broad support among the healthcare community and the general public and solid scientific evidence supporting its efficacy for a number of medical conditions, medical marijuana remains illegal in New York, even for the seriously and terminally ill.

Having worked for many years with oncology and rheumatology patients, I’ve seen the benefits of medical cannabis firsthand,” said Lisa Roche Schroeder, RN, of Little Falls, who has been working as a nurse for 25 years.  “The science shows that medical marijuana helps with pain, nausea, appetite and chemotherapy side-effects. It can be used for many purposes. The government should not be telling healthcare providers that they cannot recommend a medication that they think will help their patients,” she said.

According to the National Institute for Medicine, “Nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety … all can be mitigated by marijuana.” It also concluded that “there is no clear alternative for people suffering from chronic conditions that might be relieved by smoking marijuana…”

“I suffer constant neuropathic pain throughout the right side of my body,” said Maxine Murphy of Buffalo, a grandmother and ordained minister who suffered a severe back injury requiring extensive surgery. “My doctors say they can’t do anything for me. I’d like to try medical marijuana, but I don’t want to break the law.” 

The New York proposal was drafted with careful, strict controls: under tight regulation, a patient who has been certified by a healthcare practitioner to use medical marijuana would register with the New York State Department of Health and receive a patient identification card. Specially approved organizations would dispense the marijuana to registered patients, under DOH supervision.

Geri Barish of Long Island, a cancer survivor, whose son used medical marijuana before succumbing to cancer, noted: “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. When people are suffering, we can at least give them their dignity. It’s time for the Senate to pass this bill now.”

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

Sign up for updates from DPA.