A Year After Legalization, Medical Marijuana Patients In New York Still Can’t Actually Access Marijuana

Photo by Mr. Green.


by Aaron Kase

on April 28, 2015

Nearly a year after New York’s medical marijuana bill was signed into law, not a single patient has been able to access the marijuana. That could change soon, with the legislature considering a bill that would cut through the red tape and allow critically ill people to legally use cannabis as soon as possible.

“This bill would create emergency access to medical marijuana for patients with the most urgent needs — including children suffering from severe epilepsy,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried, sponsor of the original medical marijuana bill, in a Drug Policy Alliance press release. “It is good and compassionate public health policy. If ever there was a basis for emergency action, the suffering of these children is it.”

If passed, the measure would let seriously ill people to bypass the bureaucracy that has created interminable delays in getting the program up and running.

“Thousands of patients in New York State deal with excruciating pain each day and simply can’t wait for the wheels of government to turn,” co-sponsor Brian Kolb added. “Bureaucracy should not stand in the way of relief for people suffering from debilitating illnesses and diseases.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act into law last July. Regulations were put in place April 15 of this year, but it could be another six months before patients can actually get their marijuana. In the meantime, at least three children who could have used cannabis to treat their illness have died.

The medical marijuana program as it stands now would be one of the most restrictive in the nation. The state plans to license only five growers, and will charge them $210,000 each in fees, including a non-refundable $10,000 just to apply. Home cultivation is forbidden. Patients will only be allowed to possess oils, pills or extracts, not plants or buds.

While the government twists itself into knots to complicate a simple botanical process, for some children, it’s already too late. “No parent should have to watch their child suffer and die while remaining powerless to help,” said Nathan Nocera of Niagara Falls, whose daughter Donella, died from a brain tumor last year. “Not a single day goes by without me thinking of Donnie and reliving the enormous hurt of her death.”

For now, people suffering from epilepsy, cancer, HIV/AIDs and other diseases who stand to benefit from cannabis, have the choice of acquiring it illegally, moving to a state where it is legal, or going without the potentially life-saving medicine.

Last October, New York mother Missy Miller wrote of the pain and heartbreak watching her epileptic son suffer unnecessarily, denied the cannabis oil treatment that could bring him relief from his seizures. “I give his morning medications and dress him. By the time we get to the living room, he’s had 15 myoclonic and tonic seizures,” Miller wrote in the Times Union. “Today is another day that my child does not have the medicine he needs, and all I can do is cross another day off the calendar. Another day in the life of a child with epilepsy.”