New York Governor Signs Emergency Medical Marijuana Bill

By Keri Blakinger 11/13/15

Andrew Cuomo waited until the last minute to do the right thing.

Andrew Cuomo

On Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill that would give emergency medical marijuana access to qualifying patients in the Empire State.

The emergency access plan bills originally passed both houses of the state legislature in June and were delivered to the governor’s desk on October 30. Wednesday was the last day to sign or veto the bills.

Last year, the governor approved the Compassionate Care Act, which created a statewide medical marijuana program that was slated to begin in January. The program would allow five organizations to grow marijuana in New York and distribute it through 20 dispensaries, although advocates say that is too few distribution points for the 20 million people and 54,000 square miles that make up New York.

“If one of the 20 dispensaries fails to open in January, that could pose a real hardship for patients who may already be facing drives over an hour to access the medicine,” Kathy Annable, a New Yorker whose daughter suffers seizures, said in a press release. “My daughter Kaylie cannot keep waiting. We need an emergency access system so that people in life-threatening situations, like my daughter, can get medicine immediately.”

Now, though, Kaylie may not have to wait because instead of beginning in two months the program will begin “as soon as practicable.” According to The New York Times, details of the emergency access program are not yet clear.

In a statement, Cuomo said that he “deeply sympathized with New Yorkers suffering from serious illness, and I appreciate that medical marijuana may alleviate their chronic pain and debilitating symptoms.”

Cuomo’s signing came after months of pressure from advocacy groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and VOCAL-NY, a New York City harm reduction center.

“We’re heartened that Governor Cuomo did the right thing and signed this emergency bill,” Julie Netherland, New York deputy state director at the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “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.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.