Yesterday, the New York State Senate Health Committee passed (S.4406-B/Savino) by a bipartisan vote of 9 - 8. This is the first time in years that the Senate has taken up the issue of medical marijuana. The bill, known as the Compassionate Care Act, would alleviate the suffering of thousands of seriously ill New Yorkers by allowing the use of marijuana to treat debilitating, life-threatening illnesses under a doctor's supervision. The committee room was packed with patients from across the state, and the room erupted into applause when the Committee voted the bill in the affirmative. The bill now goes to the Finance Committee.
"Today the Senate Health Committee sided with cancer patients when it voted to move the Compassionate Care Act forward," said Andi Gladstone, Executive Director of the New York State Breast Cancer Network. "We know that medical cannabis can help alleviate the pain and nausea that many cancer patients experience from chemotherapy, and we are thrilled that the Senate has moved one step closer to make this treatment available to them. It's time for the Senate to bring this bill to the floor for a vote so that patients can finally get the relief they deserve."
"Finally, the Senate has taken some action to help sick patients in New York, like my son Oliver," said Missy Miller of Atlantic Beach, whose son Oliver suffers from intractable and life-threatening seizures. "By voting 'yes' on the Compassionate Care Act, the Senate Health Committee has given families like mine hope that one day soon we will be able to try a medical marijuana - a treatment that has shown great promise in controlling seizures in children, like Oliver. It's time for the full Senate to step up and do its part and pass this bill before more people needlessly suffer or die."
Twenty-two other states and the District Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws; with the exception of Pennsylvania, New York is now surrounded by states that permit legal access to medical marijuana. Just last week, Minnesota passed a bill to allow some patients access to medical marijuana. But in New York, patients must still risk being arrested just for using a medication that relieves their pain and suffering.
"After advocating for the passage of the Compassionate Care Act for months and months, I am thrilled that the Senate Health Committee finally took action and voted to move the bill out of their committee," said Donna Romano from Syracuse. "Clearly, the Health Committee has decided to stand with patients and on the side of compassion. Now, it's time for the senate to act and pass the bill immediately."
The bill also enjoys wide support from healthcare providers and dozens of organizations, such as the New York Academy of Medicine, Epilepsy Foundation, New York State Breast Cancer Network, New York State Nurses Association, Collaborative for Palliative Care, GMHC, New York State Pharmacists Society, and the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of New York.
"Elated," exclaimed Holly Anderson, Executive Director, of the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester. "While we were tremendously hopeful the NYS Senate Health Committee would do the right thing and move this legislation forward, there was never a guarantee. We are deeply grateful to the Health Committee members for listening to their constituents and for recognizing that this legislation is on target in every possible way. We are going to press on and do everything in our power to bring this bill to the Senate floor in the coming weeks so that patients who have very few options can finally experience relief of symptoms from a variety of diseases as well as treatment side effects. Onward!"
The New York proposal was drafted with careful, strict controls: under tight regulation, a patient who has been certified by a healthcare practitioner to use medical marijuana would register with the New York State Department of Health and receive a patient identification card. Specially approved organizations would dispense the marijuana to registered patients, under DOH supervision.
"As a person living with HIV/AIDS, I am delighted that the NY Senate Health Committee voted "yes" on the bill and has moved the issue forward," said Dawn Carney of Mount Vernon. "So many seriously ill New Yorkers can benefit from medical cannabis. Now, we need Senate leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a vote."
A recent Quinnipiac found that 88% of New York voters support medical marijuana, and the bill has strong bipartisan support in the Senate. Last week, Senator Bonacic became the 5th Republican Senator to announce his support, following Senator George Maziarz (R - Newfane), Senator Mark Grisanti (R, IP - Buffalo), Senator Tim O'Mara (R, C - Big Flats, Elmira) and bill co-sponsor, Senator Joe Robach (R, C, IP - Rochester.
"I'm a four time cancer survivor, and I have been in Albany every week this session fighting for seriously ill New Yorkers to have access to medical marijuana," said Nancy Rivera of Troy. "The Senate Health Committee vote today is an important sign of progress and that our leaders in Albany finally understand how desperately patients need access to this medicine. I'll keep fighting until the Senate brings the bill to the floor for a vote and passes the Compassionate Care Act."
The Assembly has passed the bill four times in recent years, and momentum to pass the bill has been growing in the senate. If allowed to the Senate floor for a vote, the bill is expected to pass.
"Thankfully, a majority in the Senate Health Committee voted today in support of compassion, science and common sense," said gabriel sayegh, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Now it's time for the full Senate and Assembly to vote on the Compassionate Care Act and send the bill to the Governor for his signature. New Yorkers living with cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and other serious and debilitating conditions should not have to wait any longer to get relief."