TG Branfalt Jr.

New York lawmakers and medical cannabis advocates are continuing their fight to expand the state’s Compassionate Care Act, calling the current state of the program “overly restrictive” and touting cannabis as a safe and effective alternative to opioid pain relievers, during a press conference at the capitol.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D) has proposed three bills to grow the program; A.9510 would give physician assistants and nurse practitioners the power to prescribe medical marijuana; A.9562 removes the 10 milligram dosing limits and adds Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, dystonia, muscular dystrophy, wasting syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus to the list of conditions treatable by marijuana under the law; and A.9514A seeks to allow chronic pain not associated with another condition to be treated with cannabis.

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Assemblyman Richard Gottfried spoke at length Wednesday morning about three proposals to expand and improve New York’s Compassionate Care Act.

Under the law, the Department of Health is authorized to add conditions to the list of eligible conditions, but has declined to make any changes thus far. Gottfried says the Health Department has failed to add to the list because they are “responding to instructions” from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

“The governor very clearly has a very restrictive attitude toward this program,” Gottfried said. “You’d have to ask him where that comes from.”

Kate Hintz, a parent of a 5-year-old child with intractable epilepsy and patient advocate, says due to the restrictive nature of the program her daughter is not able to acquire the medicine she needs in New York.

“We were told that New York’s program would be an example of how to get medical marijuana right. Instead we have fallen short of that goal with a program having too many restrictions and too few patients,” she said. “Allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to participate in the programs, and adding conditions like PTSD and chronic pain, will make a significant difference to thousands of New Yorkers.”

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Patient advocate Kate Hintz, mother of a 5-year-old child who suffers from epilepsy, addresses the crowd.

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D), chair of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Committee said that chronic pain needs to be added to the list of treatable conditions because of the prevalence of opioid-based treatments for chronic pain, noting that number of deaths attributed to opioid overdoses have overtaken those due to car accidents in the state.

“Allowing chronic pain sufferers to use medical marijuana would have a transformative impact on the scale of our addiction crisis,” she said. “In 2012 there was a mind-boggling 259 million opioid prescriptions – that’s more than enough for one for each person.”

In a memo by advocacy group Compassionate Care New York, the group cites a Montefiore Medical Center study that concluded between 1999 to 2010 states with effective medical marijuana programs had a 25 percent reduction in opioid pain reliever overdose deaths. According to the Center for Disease Control, there were 165,000 opioid pain-killer deaths from 1999 to 2014 – compared to zero from marijuana. Of the 23 states with medical marijuana programs, 17 include chronic pain as an eligible condition.

“Severe chronic pain is often treated with opioids that are much more dangerous and addictive than medical marijuana,” Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, said. “…It’s an important step in harm reduction and good public policy.”

Gottfried indicated that he expects all three bills to be voted on by the Assembly before the legislative session concludes. They would then head to the Senate, where they are sponsored by Senator Diane Savino (D) (S.6998, S.6999) and Senator Gustavo Rivera (D) (S.7249A).

Savino is also pushing for a home-delivery program to be enacted by the Department of Health, who have dragged their feet on the proposal, first considered in January.

“These are common sense improvements to the program, and we will be bringing help and relief to countless more patients in New York State,” she said.

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