BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- The Drug Policy Alliance has been fighting for immediate access to medical Marijuana for the critically ill in New York for more than a year.
Wednesday afternoon, they celebrated a victory: Gov. Cuomo signed into law a bill that grants emergency access to medical Marijuana for patients with a serious need; namely cancer patients or children with severe epilepsy
“We’re heartened that Governor Cuomo did the right thing and signed this emergency bill,” said Julie Netherland, New York deputy state director at the Drug Policy Alliance.
“Patients in New York are suffering, and some patients’ lives are at risk every day they are forced to wait. There’s no real victory until critically ill patients get their medicine” she said.
This new emergency program is separate from the original medical Marijuana program in New York, set to roll out in January.
The Department of Health will issue qualifying patients a card, granting them access to medical Marijuana legally, and as soon as possible.
This means the Department may need to register additional organizations to produce medical Marijuana, and waive certain regulations, like allowing the state to acquire the drug from outside New York.
“The idea here is to help those patients who literally could die without medical Marijuana and the main group that we’re really focused on are children with very severe forms of epilepsy. Who sometimes have dozens and dozens of seizures a day.This group is really at risk. In our campaign alone, since the bill was signed in July of 2014, there have been three children with these severe forms of epilepsy who have died,” Netherland told News 4.
One of the those children is 9-year-old Anna Conte of Orchard Park, who passed in July 2014.
The Conte family was in strong support of the original medical Marijuana bill when it passed.
Netherland said the original program has some kinks that need working out.
It’s very strict compared to programs in other states: only ten conditions qualify for it, and unlike other programs, where the market sets prices, New York’s Health Commissioner decides how much medical Marijuana products will cost, which is still up in the air.
Director of the Research Institute on Addictions at UB, Kenneth Leonard, told News 4 lawmakers are smart to be cautious.
“It is being rolled out in a very methodical way, I think to try and avoid some of the issues that they’ve had concerns about in other states,” Leonard told News 4.
He mentioned the disorganization that often accompanies fast roll-outs of similar programs.
Netherland, who is confident the program will help many people in New York, worries there are not enough dispensaries.
“With only 20 dispensaries for a state as geographically big as New York, and as populous as New York, if even one or two of those dispensaries don’t come online that could pose a real barrier for patients. Especially in an area like Western New York where you only have two dispensaries for that entire region of the state,” she said.
The two in Erie County will be at 25 Northpointe Parkway near Sweet Home and North French Roads in Buffalo, and 52 Union Road near Main Street in Williamsville.