New York - After making national headlines for his support of medical marijuana, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State only briefly mentioned his medical marijuana plan. Cuomo administration officials said that the program would involve distributing medical marijuana through 20 hospitals statewide, and the Department of Health would be charged with promulgating regulations.
Cuomo initially said he would share details about the plan during his state of the state address, but instead provided only limited comment. The Governor's policy briefing book, published during his speech, outlines what amounts to a medical marijuana research program, not the comprehensive system that patients need. Critical questions remain as yet unanswered– such as, which patients would be eligible, or where the marijuana for the program would come from. Administration officials have suggested they would obtain marijuana from the federal government or from supplies seized by law enforcement, but those options, while specifically outlined in the 1980 Olivieri law, are both unlikely and pose significant safety risks to patients. Additionally, public and private hospitals may be resistant to participating in a state program that instructs them to violate federal law.
Patients and advocates were disappointed that the Governor did not make a commitment to support the comprehensive legislation that has passed the Assembly four times and would truly offer patients the medicine they need.
"As someone living with stage 4 breast cancer I'm disappointed that I did not hear more from Governor Cuomo detailing his medical marijuana initiative. My hope is he's hearing the voices of all us patient advocates across state making clear we need a comprehensive solution that provides medical marijuana access for folks like me who are suffering now," said Beverly McClain of New York City. "I look forward to seeing the Governor work with the Senate to pass a compassionate care Act as soon as possible."
"I am disappointed with the Governor's announcement today, and more so, I am frustrated that he still does not acknowledge the serious, debilitating conditions our children suffer from every day," said Kate Hintz of the Hudson Valley, who's 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. Announcing a 'pilot program' with little to no detail is hardly the answer- it barely even addresses the issue. Every day he waits means another day of seizures for my daughter."
"Critically and chronically ill New Yorkers need a more comprehensive bill, 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 for a system to be put in place in our state, and we shouldn't have to settle for a limited program which is over 30 years old. New Yorkers cannot wait any longer for the Compassionate Care Act to be passed."
"I was pleased Governor Cuomo mentioned his decision to support medical marijuana, but I was much more discontented to hear that he does not acknowledge that times have changed. The 1980 Olivieri legislation cannot in 2014 provide the compassionate care required for the lives of people living with full blown AIDS, young children suffering from epileptic seizure syndromes, people fighting cancer and those suffering the pains of MS," said James W Lister, HIV-positive since 1976, living with full-blown AIDS since 1996.
"I'm glad the governor supports medical marijuana, but I am concerned that this limited program will not help my son Oliver. I urge him to work with the Senate to pass a comprehensive piece of legislation that will include everybody," said Missy Miller of Long Island whose son Oliver suffers from severe seizure disorders.
"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 today, '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."
"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 to move forward with a more comprehensive system consistent with today's scientific evidence," said Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, MD, Vice chair of New York physicians for Compassionate Care.
"What's good is that Governor Cuomo has joined the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers and Americans who support of medical marijuana. Unfortunately, the Governor didn't acknowledge the need for legislative reform, and his proposal is a limited interim step at best," said gabriel sayegh, State Director of the Drug Policy Allaince. "What we need in New York is a comprehensive solution to allow patients with serious and debilitating conditions to access the specific types of marijuana they need, under the supervision of their healthcare provider. Patients and their families need the Governor to join us in calling on the Senate to finally pass the Compassionate Care Act so we can finally provide patients the relief New Yorkers need and deserve."