Council Member Mark Levine’s Floor Comments on Resolution 418 Calling on the New York State to Expand the Compassionate Care Act, Which Legalized Medicinal Marijuana

September 23, 2014

I would like to call your attention to Resolution 418 calling upon the New York State Legislature and the Governor to expand the Compassionate Care Act, which legalized medicinal marijuana. On July 7th, the Governor signed the Act into law, making New York the 23rd state to legalize medicinal marijuana. While this was a major step forward for our state and affirms consensus within the medical community on the therapeutic value of medicinal marijuana, there are some major imperfections with this law:

First of all, it limits out too many of the permissible diseases for which marijuana can be prescribed. While certain diseases like cancer, AIDs and Parkinson’s are covered, others such as muscular dystrophy, PTSD, and rheumatoid arthritis are not. In fact, policy experts estimate that the current law would cover only 10% of patients that could truly benefit from medicinal marijuana.

Second, finding a convenient local dispensary will not be easy because the current law only authorizes five private companies to open up four dispensaries each--or 20 total dispensaries for the entire state. Therefore, New York State would have only 20 dispensaries serving a total population of 19.5 million people. Compare that with a state like Arizona’s 98 dispensaries for 6 million people. In fact, New York will have the lowest per-capita dispensary to population ratio of any medicinal marijuana state in the country.

Finally, and perhaps the most fundamental flaw, is that the Compassionate Care Act does not allow patients to consume marijuana by smoking it--rather it must be consumed through food, oils, pills or vapors. Advocates agree that the cheapest and most efficient way to consume marijuana is by smoking it. The current law will force patients who require instant pain relief to either smoke it illegally or to purchase a vaporizer that can often cost hundreds of dollars, adversely impacting low-income patients. In fact, of the 22 other states that have legalized marijuana, only one other state prohibits smoking it.

In a state with an estimated of 83% of voters in support medicinal marijuana, we can do better. While it took our state long enough to make progress on this important issue, the time to act is now while the momentum is with us. We can make important yet simple fixes to the Compassionate Care Act, which would not only make it a better law but also better fulfill its ultimate goal of comforting people in pain at a time when they need it most.

Thank you. 

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