Any loosening of laws governing marijuana use remains a politically charged subject, but a new proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is creative, narrowly scaled and compassionate to New Yorkers who are suffering from debilitating conditions that some version of marijuana could help to alleviate. It’s the right move.
Cuomo’s plan is to make use of the Antonio G. Olivieri Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Program, an obscure 1980 law that allows for the use of controlled substances for “cancer patients, glaucoma patients and patients afflicted with other diseases as such diseases are approved by the commissioner.” With that, Cuomo is able to circumvent the need for legislative approval. Measures to allow the medical use of marijuana have passed in the Assembly in recent years, but always stalled in the Senate.
Olivieri was a New York City councilman and state assemblyman who died in 1980 at age 39. He had a brain tumor and used marijuana to overcome some of the discomfort inflicted by chemotherapy. Until his death, he lobbied for legislation to legalize its medical use. More recently, Buffalo News readers learned about an 8-year-old Orchard Park girl who suffers from severe epileptic seizures of a kind that has been eased for another child in Colorado, where medical marijuana was legal, even before the loosening of laws to allow its recreational use. In the Colorado case, it is important to note, the child’s suffering was alleviated not by smoking marijuana, but by mixing cannabis oil into her food. Who could be against that?
Cuomo is pursuing this program as a test, insisting that he have control over its implementation. That’s reasonable, but he needs to move quickly on having Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah identify the conditions for which marijuana use will be permitted.
The benefits of marijuana for pain relief are reported only anecdotally, but the anecdotes are sufficient to be persuasive. It would be a cruel punishment to New Yorkers who suffer from chronic, severe pain to continue denying them what benefits they may receive. Even though marijuana is a political hot button, its use is pervasive and, in New York, casual use is only lightly punished. It’s time to allow some form of controlled medicinal use.
Nevertheless, further research should be encouraged. What if certain blends of marijuana are more effective for pain relief? What if ingesting cannabis oil is generally more useful than smoking the leaves? What if, with certain medical conditions, it causes unwanted side effects?
Lawmakers continue to push for legislation to formally legalize the medical use of marijuana. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, called Cuomo’s move “an important interim step,” but he said the 1980 law Cuomo is implementing is “limited and cumbersome” and says it won’t benefit enough New Yorkers. With some 20 states allowing for the medical use of marijuana, it is time that New York caught up.
The state doesn’t have to follow the California model, which is a thinly disguised bid to allow its widespread use, but it needs to shed the vestiges of its draconian past, as exemplified by the desperately cruel Rockefeller drug laws. Those laws were eased in 2009. If recreational drug users were due a break – and they were – than surely New Yorkers suffering debilitating pain deserve a little consideration, too.