After months of pressure from patients and advocates, Gov. Cuomo signed a bill today that will expedite access to medical marijuana for critically ill patients. In June, with overwhelming bipartisan support, both houses of the legislature passed A.7060 (Gottfried) / S.5086 (Griffo), directing the state to establish a program to help critically ill patients obtain emergency access to medical marijuana as soon as possible. The bill was delivered to Governor on October 30th, and he had until today to either sign or veto the bill. The bill instructs the state to issue patient cards to qualified, critically ill patients as soon as possible, making it clear that they are medical marijuana patients and affording them some protection from law enforcement and child protective services.
Yesterday, patients, families, and advocates rallied outside Governor Cuomo's Manhattan office to urge the governor to sign the bill. People living with HIV/AIDS and community organizing groups like VOCAL NY and ACT UP stood in solidarity with those advocating for emergency access outside the Governor's Office, recalling a time when they were also denied access to life-saving medications.
"I am so very relieved that Governor Cuomo has signed this bill," said Missy Miller of Atlantic Beach, whose son Oliver suffers from life-threatening seizures. "I once again have hope that I will be able to offer my son the chance at significant relief. This gives Oliver and the truly sickest patients across NY the opportunity to get access to medical marijuana expeditiously, thereby relieving suffering. This has been an incredibly long and difficult process, but I have renewed faith in my home state. This will become real to me when Oliver gets the medicine he needs."
Since the medical marijuana law passed a year ago, not one patient in New York has been able to access medical marijuana. Tragically, at least four children who would have likely benefited from it have died while waiting to obtain this much-needed medicine. Just last month, longtime medical marijuana advocate Beverly McClain, who had metastatic cancer, passed away without ever benefiting from the law she helped pass.
New York's medical marijuana program is slated to become operational in January of 2016, but some fear that program will not come on line as scheduled. The state has yet to launch a system for patients to register and just unveiled the mandatory doctor training in mid-October.
Recent media accounts suggest that several of the planned dispensaries are having trouble finalizing sites. With only 20 dispensaries statewide for almost 20 million people across 54,000 square miles, the failure of even one dispensary to open is problematic, especially to those who are critically ill.
"We're heartened that Governor Cuomo did the right thing and signed this emergency bill," said Julie Netherland, New York deputy state director at the Drug Policy Alliance. "Patients in New York are suffering, and some patients' lives are at risk every day they are forced to wait. There's no real victory until critically ill patients get their medicine."