For some New Yorkers suffering from painful illness, relief through medical marijuana will soon be a possibility.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is invoking a 1980 state department of health law, which would allow 20 hospitals across the state of New York to dispense medical marijuana. As of mid-February, it is unclear which hospitals will take part in the pilot program.
“A number of hospitals have expressed interest in learning more about the program,” said Jeffrey Hammond, spokesman for the New York State Department of Health. “The Department of Health will be working closely with hospitals across the state, medical experts and other stakeholders as the research protocols and implementation plan for the program are developed.”
The state health department is working to develop a statewide research program that will evaluate medical marijuana’s efficacy in alleviating patient’s symptoms, Hammond said.
“The state takes seriously this opportunity to alleviate the pain and suffering of individuals with cancer and other severe illnesses,” Hammond said.
The 1980 law created the Antonio G. Olivieri Controlled Substances Therapeutic Program. It allows patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma and other diseases to get medical marijuana through hospitals under a special permit. Olivieri served as a state assemblyman until 1980 and was a strong advocate of medical marijuana to help him and others with cancer. He died of brain cancer at the age of 39.
New York will be the 22nd state, including the District of Columbia, to legalize medical marijuana. It will be the first state to dispense marijuana through hospitals. And it is the first state in which the governor authorized limited use through executive fiat, instead of going through the legislature.
“It’s like no other path that has been suggested to date,” said Alan St. Pierre, director of NORML. NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, works to move public opinion to legalize marijuana. Said St. Pierre, “No governor has just declared that there is going to be a change of law.”
Beth Hurny is director of services for Syracuse Prevention Network, also known as Onondaga Council on Alcohol and Addictions. Hurny says she is cautious about the effects the program will have on the community.
“Hopefully Governor Cuomo is aware of the risks as well as the benefits in making his decision,” Hurny said. “As an agency we really encourage people to look at both sides and understand the pros and the cons, the benefits and the risks. A lot of times in the media we only hear the pro— the pro medical-marijuana people.”
“It will definitely create issues for the community because it will increase access and availability,” said Hurny. “ Any time that you increase the supply of a drug there’s been the issue of access and availability.”
(Joshua B. Dermer is a senior majoring in newspaper and online journalism, with a minor in Middle Eastern studies and a specialization in forensic science.)