New York Plans To Allow Medical Marijuana As Opioid Alternative

By Maggie Ethridge 06/19/18

"We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons, and when we were done, we realized that the pros outweighed the cons,” said one public health official.

Doctor's hands holding a bud of medical cannabis and pills

The New York Department of Health will now recommend that the state allow adults to legally use medical marijuana instead of an opioid prescription, or if they are struggling with opioid addiction.

According to U.S. News, state commissioner Howard Zucker announced that the Department of Health will create regulations that allow patients who have been prescribed opioids or become addicted to the drug, to instead enroll in the medical marijuana program.

Dr. Zucker proposed that allowing medical marijuana use in place of opioids is backed by research which shows that having access to marijuana reduces opioid use and eliminates the risk of overdose, as well as the risk of addiction for those not dependent on the drug.

The New York Times pointed out that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo referred to marijuana as a "gateway drug" in the past and was not a supporter of its medicinal use.

Howard Zucker noted this change, stating in the NYT, “We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons, and when we were done, we realized that the pros outweighed the cons,” adding, “we have new facts.”

The NYT reported that the New York State Department will now be supporting the legalization of marijuana after the results of their state-sponsored study, backed by Governor Cuomo, were released.

Dr. Zucker was quoted in NYT, noting that the researchers behind the study were “experts from all across the government.” He said that the researchers had surveyed a broad array of issues, including age, and production and distribution, and decided that the legalization of marijuana in New York was workable.

News outlet WHEC noted that as of now, the New York medical marijuana program allows only 12 conditions (which must be certified by a physician) in those who use the program. These conditions included HIV/AIDS, and chronic pain conditions such as arthritis and cancer.

So far the regulations around the program have been strict: no smokeable forms of marijuana are allowed.

Elizabeth Brico wrote in a recent feature for The Fix that medical marijuana was an integral part of her abstinence from opioids.

“The ability to soften the blow of that transition helps some users acclimate to life without opioids. Even if the marijuana use doesn't remain transitional—if someone who was formerly addicted to heroin continues to use marijuana for the rest of his or her life instead—the risk of fatal overdose, hepatitis C or HIV transmission through drug use, and a host of other complications still go down to zero." 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.