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Empire State Medical Marijuana Program Faces Potential Inconsistencies

Empire State Medical Marijuana Program Faces Potential Inconsistencies

Posted by Marijuana Doctors on 01/24/2014 in Medical Marijuana Laws

Since Cuomo’s recent State of the State announcement to enact a medical marijuana program in New York on January 8th, ten hospitals have expressed interest in becoming part of the newly proposed plan. Under the plan, up to 20 hospitals would be given permission, by state athorities to use medical marijuana as a form of treatment and research for patients suffering from a short list of qualifiying conditions.

As it stands, medical marijuana will remain illegal in New York City. And as we all know, federally illegal nationwide. Thus far, the hospitals that have expressed interest are as follows: White Plains Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, Albany Medical Center, Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, Stony Brook Hospital in Long Island, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, Roswell Cancer Center in Buffalo, North Shore LIJ system in NYC and New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation.

“We want to further explore New York’s Controlled Substance Therapeutic Program for medical marijuana and look forward to further discussions with the State Health Department,” said Dr. Steven Safyer, president of Montefiore Health System. “We have an obligation to our patients to consider all safe and effective therapeutic options to cure illness or relieve symptoms.”

By way of the Antonio G. Oliviere Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Program, Cuomo can unilaterally impliment this program to be used across the state. By having some of the largest health and cancer centers in the state express interest in the program, Cuomo’s plan which has been been critized by other legislators and advocates as “cumbersome” and “limited,” may be looking up.

“We are always in favor of safe and effective treatment options that can alleviate pain and suffering for patients,” White Plains Hospital officials said. “At this point, we have expressed interest in learning more about the Controlled Susbstance Therapeutic Research Program, but have not made any commitment to participate.”

The proposed plan is named after New York City Council member and assemblyman Antonio Oliveri, who became a great advocate and proponent for medical marijuana as he used it to combat the side effects of his chemotherapy.

Dr. Safyer said in a statement, “As an academic health system, Montefiore’s missions are to heal, to teach, to discover and to advance the health of the communities we serve.” He continued, “We believe we have an obligation to our patients to consider all safe and effective therapeutic options to cure illness or relieve symptoms. In that spirit, we want to further explore New York’s Controlled Substance Therapeutic Program for medical marijuana nad look forward to further discussions with the State Health Department.”

Because the plan is only in its first stages, it remains unclear of just how hospitals plan to work around the federal restrictions surrounding marijuana. “Our assumption,” Terence Lynam of North Shore LIJ said, “Is that all would be resolved before this pilot program. Like everybody else we are waiting for more detail about how this is going to roll out. We want to ensure our patients have access to every legal option to manage the symptoms of their illness.”

Where the marijuana will come from is another kink in the program that has yet to see a sufficient solution. Sources have said that the marijuana will most likely be obtained from government confiscated plants – however, chances are slim that any of that supply is medical-grade.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws spokesman, Allen St. Pierre has pointed this issue out. “This is just one more variation on politicians trying to do the right thing but simply not having the political will to just say ‘There’s this plant called marijuana, it has varying degrees of potency and we’re going to let doctors recommend and prescribe it.”

State Senator Diane Savino who previously sponsored the Compassionate Care Act, a far more expansive proposal for medical marijuana in New York, has her doubts about the success of Cuomo’s plan. “Hospitals can’t distribute medical marijuana, period.” She continued, “They are federally licensed facilities. The federal government will happily come in and shut them down, take their licenses away, and take away their license to distribute other schedule 1 drugs which they can’t afford to do.” The Cuomo administration has responded to this apparent dillema by saying that once the state has gone on to reiceve permission by the federal government to pursue marijuana as an invetigational medicine, hospitals would then be given those same protections they have for any other drug research.

To this response, Savino said, “I know some people have suggested, ‘Well, we’ll request a waiver from the Obama administration.’ They’re not giving New York a waiver. They haven’t given any other state a waiver. States that have legal medical marijuana, that have statues that have been adopted and signed by agovernor, they haven’t given them a waiver. They’re not going to give us one. At all.” Still, Administration officials claim they have been positively conversing with federal officials about winning plan approval in 2014.

“Where would a hospital get the marijuana to distribute? Good question,” said Savino. “You can’t transfer marijuana across state lines. Again, it’s a federal law. The idea that we would allow a hospital to distribute marijuana that’s been seized in a drug raid and give it to patients is absolutely absurd. Nobody knows what’s in that stuff. And so thats why it’s not workable.”

And so we’re faced, once again, with the all-encompassing conundrum that is the medical marijuana program on a state level. As Cuomo has decidedly taken the reigns and chosen to bypass the Legislature altogether, it still remains to be seen whether or not the program will prove successful in the Empire state.

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