Patients, Families, Caregivers and Healthcare Providers Rally in Albany to Urge Senate and Governor Cuomo to Pass Comprehensive Medical Marijuana Legislation

Press Release January 12, 2014
Media Contact

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

Albany — Today – the first full day of the 2014 New York State Senate session — dozens of patients, families, caregivers and healthcare providers gathered in Albany for a press conference and lobby day to call on the State Senate to pass and Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the Compassionate Care Act — A.6357-A (Gottfried) / S.4406-A (Savino). People living with cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, and other serious, debilitating medical conditions; healthcare providers; and the parents of children who suffer from severe forms of epilepsy, such as Dravet’s syndrome, travelled from all corners of the State to call on the Senate to pass and the Governor to support the Compassionate Care Act – comprehensive legislation that would allow seriously ill New Yorkers access to medical marijuana under the supervision of their healthcare provider.

The lobby day comes on the heels of Governor Cuomo’s announcement last week in his State of the State address that he supports medical marijuana.  The medical efficacy of medical marijuana has been well established in the scientific literature, and the feasibility of establishing comprehensive, statewide medical marijuana programs has been clearly demonstrated in the twenty states and the District of Columbia which have passed bills to establish such programs. Nearly every state bordering New York has passed laws establishing statewide, comprehensive medical marijuana program to help their sick and suffering citizens. Canada has also passed a national medical marijuana system.

Tuesday, the Assembly Health Committee will vote on the Compassionate Care Act as the Assembly moves to take action on the bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and co-sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island). The bill passed the Assembly last year but the Senate failed to take action.

"Critically and chronically ill New Yorkers need a comprehensive bill for relief, namely the Compassionate Care Act, to be passed in the Senate during this 2014 legislative session,” said Nancy Rivera, a four-time cancer survivor from Troy, NY. "We must not and should not have to wait any longer for a medical marijuana system to be put in place in our state, and we shouldn’t have to wait to find out if a limited program which is over 30 years old can be made to work. New Yorkers will work. The Senate should immediately pass the Compassionate Care Act."

The New York State legislature has been considering medical marijuana legislation every year since 1997, and the Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, most recently in 2013.  The Senate has never brought the bill to the floor for a vote and refuses to even held a hearing about the bill. Advocates called on Albany to act, and particularly for the Senate to pass the pending legislation. Cuomo aministration officials told advocates the Governor would “consider” the Compassionate Care Act once the legislature sends it to his desk.

“I am frustrated that some Albany leaders do not acknowledge the serious, debilitating conditions our children suffer from every day,” said Kate Hintz of the Hudson Valley, whose daughter Morgan suffers from a severe seizure disorder. “We know that medical marijuana could greatly improve the quality of Morgan's life, and so many other New Yorkers. Blocking legislation or announcing a limited program with little to no detail is hardly the answer we need- it barely even addresses the issue.  Every day the Senate and Governor wait means another day of seizures for my daughter.”

“Though we are deeply appreciative of the Governor’s move to support medical cannabis, reviving the 1980 Olivieri law is unlikely to be sufficient to address the issues patients face in 2014 – and thus the legislature still needs to act,” said Holly Anderson, director of the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester.  “It is incomprehensible that New Yorkers continue to suffer while residents in neighboring states can gain much-needed relief. This is not acceptable. As the Governor indicated in his address last week, ‘This is a new year and a new beginning,’ therefore we need a new law… one that will allow all patients safe and legal access to medicinal marijuana across this great state.  We’re going to double our efforts to get the Senate to finally pass the Compassionate Care Act so we can deliver it to the Governor for his signature.”

A third of Americans now live in one of the 20 state where medical marijuana is legal, and a Siena College Poll last May found that 82% of New Yorkers  — including 81% of both Republicans and Democrats — support medical marijuana. The Compassionate Care Act 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 New York physicians, also support the bill.

"We applaud the governor for his support of medical marijuana, and restarting a 1980 program is a fine step, but the science has advanced a lot in the last 34 years. It makes sense for the Legislature to move forward with a more comprehensive system consistent with today's scientific evidence,” said Sunil Aggarwal MD, Ph.D, Vice Chair of New York Physicians for Compassionate Care.

Although I am pleased the governor is moving in the right direction, it is not enough for me as a patient who suffers daily with multiple sclerosis,” said Susan Rusinko, a mother from Auburn, NY. “I risk legal ramification every single day by using marijuana.  I am not a criminal — I am a daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend.  I as well as New York need comprehensive legislation. We need the Senate to pass Compassionate Care Act, and the Governor should sign it.”

“Thousands of New Yorkers who needlessly suffer every day because they cannot access a medication that would help them,” said gabriel sayegh, State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Those who were able, travelled to Albany today to ask the Senate to finally pass the Compassionate Care Act and deliver it to the Governor for his signature. Seriously ill New Yorkers have suffered long enough.  The Governor and the Assembly now both support medical marijuana – it’s time for the Senate to pass the real legislative reform patients need, the Compassionate Care Act.”

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

Sign up for updates from DPA.