ALBANY, NY — A comprehensive bill to allow medical marijuana in New York passed a key House committee on Tuesday with strong bi-partisan support.
The Assembly Health Committee voted 20-4 to advance the bill, , Assembly Bill 6357, also known as the Compassionate Care Act. The bill will now be considered by the Assembly Codes Committee before advancing to the full Assembly for a vote.
“The Compassionate Care Act is needed even with Governor Cuomo’s Executive action on medical marijuana.” Assembly Health Chair Richard N. Gottfried, author of the bill, said Tuesday.
“The Legislature needs to enact legislation this session that is more comprehensive,” Gottfried added. ”With the advantage of 20 states and the District of Columbia having gone before us, the Compassionate Care Act incorporates lessons learned and best practices from those states.”
The Compassionate Care Act would allow practitioners to certify patients with serious, debilitating illnesses to be able to use medical marijuana to relieve their symptoms. Patients or their caregivers could possess up to 2 ½ ounces. Medical marijuana would be available through state-registered non-profit dispensaries, with a closely monitored seed-to-sale tracking system implemented statewide.
The New York State legislature has been considering medical marijuana legislation every year since 1997, and the Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, most recently in 2013. The Senate has never brought the bill to the floor for a vote.
Advocates hope that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent executive order authorizing an extremely limited medical marijuana program in the state pushes the Senate to take action on the Compassionate Care Act in 2014.
“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.
“Critically and chronically ill New Yorkers need a comprehensive bill for relief, 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 any longer for a medical marijuana system to be put in place in our state, and we shouldn’t have to wait to find out if a limited program which is over 30 years old can be made to work. New Yorkers will work. The Senate should immediately pass the Compassionate Care Act.”
Critical questions about the Gov. Cuomo’s proposed program remain unanswered, including which patients will be eligible for the program, and where the supply of medical marijuana for the program will originate.
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.
A third of Americans now live in one of the 20 state where medical marijuana is legal, and a Siena College Poll last May found that 82% of New Yorkers — including 81% of both Republicans and Democrats — support medical marijuana.
The Compassionate Care Act has state-wide support from healthcare providers and organizations, such as the New York State Nurses Association, the Collaborative for Palliative Care, GMHC, New York State Pharmacists Society, the New York State Psychological Association,and the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of New York. NY Physicians for Compassionate Care, a group representing more than 600 New York physicians, also support the bill.
Cuomo administration officials told advocates the Governor would “consider” the Compassionate Care Act once the legislature sends it to his desk.