Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday asked the state Health Department to expedite availability of medical marijuana for children suffering from epilepsy.
His action was met with approval by Wendy Conte, whose daughter, Anna, 9, of Orchard Park, died 12 days after the governor signed the Compassionate Care Act into law July 5. That made New York the 23rd state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.
“Striking the right balance to ensure public safety and public health are protected is crucial,” Cuomo wrote, while lamenting the deaths of Anna Conte and Olivia Marie Newton, 3, of Cheektowaga. “That said, I ask that you review the 18-month implementation timeline to determine if there is any way to accelerate the process for this specific dire population.”
Conte said in a statement that she “applauded” the governor’s efforts.
“We are looking to the governor now for his continued leadership to ensure that our children receive the medication that they need. We know that this medicine is readily available. There is simply no reason or excuse for why another child like Anna must die,” she said.
Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, said the expedited timetable is needed for all whose quality of life can be enhanced with medical marijuana.
“We need to expand the opportunity to help people who need this medication, and it must be done safely but soon,” Kearns said. “I think what these families are saying is, when their children are hurting, they’re hurting too. They know possibly what the end result is going to be, but they want their time with them to be as happy as possible, and if you’re in pain, it’s hard to be happy.”
Kearns had urged Cuomo in a July 11 letter to try to expedite planned clinical trials, and made the same request in a letter to acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on Tuesday. In each case, Kearns asked whether Cuomo, through an executive order, could allow the issuance of emergency medical marijuana cards that New York residents could use in other states to receive medical marijuana. The nearest state that allows its use is Michigan.
New York has reportedly entered into a medical marijuana clinical trial for minors suffering from epilepsy with GW Pharmaceuticals, a British biopharmaceutical company. That trial still needs approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Kearns said federal-level changes are needed to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the most restricted category reserved for drugs with “no currently accepted medical use.”
That’s necessary, he said, to speed up federal approval of medical marijuana.
State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, said, “We passed the Compassionate Care Act specifically with children like Anna Conte and Olivia Marie Newton in mind, and it’s critical that we implement this program as quickly as possible to alleviate the suffering of New Yorkers with such debilitating diseases.”