By some standards, New York is one of the most progressive states in the nation. When it comes to medical cannabis however, laws have little to be desired. When New York first rolled out its medical cannabis program a couple years ago, several criticized it for being one of the most restrictive in the country.
And while there have been a few adjustments over the years, New York still only allows for a handful of conditions to be treated by cannabis. One lawmaker wants to see this change.
New York’s Restrictive Medical Cannabis Conditions
New York Assemblyman Richard Gottfried introduced a bill in early January that would give doctors in the state permission to prescribe medical cannabis for any serious condition. Currently acceptable medical conditions under New York’s medical cannabis program are those that are “severe debilitating or life threatening” and include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Spinal cord injury
- Huntington’s disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Post-traumatic stress
- Chronic pain
The “severe or life threating condition” must also be accompanied by one or more of the following associated or complicating conditions: wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe or persistent muscle spasms.
New Bill Would Allow More New York Residents to Use Medical Marijuana
It’s Gottfried who first drafted the legislation to legalized medical cannabis in New York 20 years ago. It’s taken almost two decades to see the bill come to fruition, but Gottfried believes there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.
“I have always opposed a restricted conditions list for medical marijuana,” Gottfried says. “No other medicine has a statutory list of what conditions it can be used for because health care professionals, not the state, should make prescribing conditions.”
The new bill proposed by Gottfried is similar to the first bill he drafted after California legalized medical marijuana in 1996. According to Doug Greene, Empire State NORML executive director however, “Today most jurisdictions that are enacting [medical marijuana] programs are not doing so the old-school California way. It’s usually through a restricted number of conditions.”
Could an Expanded Medical Cannabis Program in New York Help the Opioid Crisis?
Those who support Gottfried’s proposed bill are hopeful it could help curb the opioid epidemic that, like in many other parts of the country, is taking New York by storm. They reason if patients had access to medical cannabis that they could choose not to medicate with dangerous prescription painkillers.
New York deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, Melissa Moore, is hopeful Gottfried’s bill is passed. “That’s crucial for us in New York right now, facing the opioid crisis,” Moore says. “In this moment, it’s clear that New Yorkers are sick and tired of marijuana prohibition getting in the way of people’s ability to access medication and to be able to live as healthful as possible.”
There have been several studies that highlight the effectiveness of medical cannabis both reducing opioid use, addiction, fatal overdoses. One study conducted at the University of New Mexico found a distinct connection between the legal ability to use cannabis and significant reductions in the use of opioids.
According to Psychology Associate Professor Jacob Vigil who led the study, “If cannabis can serve as alternative to prescription opioids for at least some patients, legislators and the medical community may want to consider medical cannabis programs as a potential tool for combating the current opioid epidemic.”
Will Proposal Let More New Yorkers Medicate with Marijuana?
While some are skeptical if Gottfried’s proposed bill will pass, he remains optimistic. “There is more public awareness and support for cannabis every day,” Gottfried says.
And while he believes the Senate might be difficult, he is “optimistic” it will pass in the Assembly. As far as Senate approval, Gottfried says, “The successful expansion of severe chronic pain and PTSD-the latter of which was done with Senate approval-shows that more patients can get the right treatment for more conditions without causing diversion or other problems.”
Will New York soon expand its medical cannabis program that will undoubtedly benefit the good of its people? If Gottfried gets his way, it’s a very likely possibility.