ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined a limited initiative Wednesday to authorize medical marijuana for patients at 20 hospitals, calling it an opportunity to relieve pain and suffering for New Yorkers with cancer and other serious illnesses.
In his State of the State speech, Cuomo officially unveiled his plan to establish the test program under state Department of Health regulations, using his administrative powers rather than pushing for legislation.
“We will monitor the program to evaluate the effectiveness and the feasibility of a medical marijuana system,” he said.
In an accompanying briefing book, the Cuomo administration described who would be eligible: patients with cancer, glaucoma and other specific diseases listed by the Health Department and “who are in a life-threatening or sense-threatening situation.” Both conditions would be certified by a doctor and the program would be subject to stringent research protocols, the book said.
While praising the governor’s action, a number of advocates claim the 1980 state law Cuomo relies on will be cumbersome and limit the ability to dispense marijuana for medical purposes. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said he is talking with the Cuomo administration about a new version of medical marijuana legislation that he has been sponsoring for years.
While marijuana remains illegal in New York, possessing a small amount has been reduced to a low-level violation. About 20 states have medical marijuana laws.
Cuomo’s proposal focuses solely on a limited test program, regulated and monitored by the Health Department. Earlier this week, the governor said that pending bills to legalize and tax marijuana like any other product are “a non-starter for me.”
The Drug Policy Alliance said the governor’s initiative is not the comprehensive system patients need and questions remain about which patients would be in the program and where the marijuana for the program would come from.
“That’s the big problem here,” said Gabriel Sayegh, the alliance’s state director. “What they say they’re researching is the feasibility of developing a medical marijuana system in New York. One could understand this if it was 1980. We have in this country nearly 20 years of experience with states having medical marijuana laws.”
An estimated 100,000 New Yorkers, probably more, have conditions that could be affected, but the proposed limited research program won’t reach many of them, Sayegh said. Meanwhile countries, including Canada and Israel, already have sophisticated national programs, he said.
Associated Press writer Michael Hill contributed to this report.