How Cuomo's Marijuana Plan Falls Short

How Cuomo's Marijuana Plan Falls Short

How Cuomo's Marijuana Plan Falls Short
September 26, 2014

“The times they are a-changin,” wrote Bob Dylan. This observation has never been more true in regard to the United States’s approach to marijuana than it has been over the past month. This year we might see a majority of the states in our union approve some form of medicinal marijuana, and more states following Colorado and Washington to legalize recreational use.

It is no surprise then that Gov. Cuomo has decided to streamline the process of bringing medical marijuana to New York—a recent Siena poll showed that over 80 percent of New Yorkers support doing so. While I believe that the governor’s move is a step in the right direction, the vague details of his plan merely opens the door. The Legislature can then carry this torch to expand the plan more constructively and responsibly to alleviate far more New Yorkers’ suffering.

I insist that the Legislature carry the torch because the governor’s plan hinges on a law that was passed in 1980. That means the proposal we are getting is already 30 years old. By modern standards, it is too narrow in scope, allowing only 20 hospitals the ability to treat too limited a number of diseases.

Under the governor’s proposal the most positive medical marijuana story in the country would not be possible: that of Charlotte Figi, a 6-year-old girl, who suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a rare, catastrophic form of intractable epilepsy that caused her to have over 100 seizures daily. I cannot imagine being the parent of a child with such an overwhelming condition. At a hearing in Mineola last month I heard testimony from parents of children 2 to 10 years old, who suffer from similar conditions. Four of these families moved to Colorado within 48 hours after testifying, so their children could receive the same miracle treatment as Charlotte, a special consumable oil, named Charlotte’s Web, which contains a minimal level of THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis and a high level of CBD, which treats the epilepsy. I sat at this hearing with tears in my eyes, and promised these families that I would do everything I could to ensure that we could bring them home and treat their children here in New York.

My colleague, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, has authored a bill that would expand the governor’s proposal. I co-sponsored this legislation because it takes a bold, responsible step in the treatment of not only cancers and glaucoma, which are the only ailments the governor’s plan includes, but also diseases such as Dravet Syndrome, other forms of epilepsy and intractable pain, chemotherapy, wasting syndromes, multiple sclerosis and PTSD.

While I am optimistic that the governor’s plan will bring the positives of medical marijuana to the fore, I hope he also insists that Assemblyman Gottfried’s bill get to the floor in both houses. Only then will we truly take a bold step forward for New York. Hearing from parents of children who have to leave New York or treat their sick children with medicines that include addictive narcotics and opiates has been heartbreaking and enlightening. It is the main reason I have championed this cause. As <em>The New England Journal of Medicine</em> editorialized, for doctors to prescribe highly addictive opiate narcotics, such as oxycodone, but not marijuana, is total hypocrisy.

As for full-fledged legalization of marijuana, State Sen. Liz Krueger has put forth a plan for New York to legalize marijuana modeled on Colorado’s approach. While the bill is still in an initial draft, I appreciate the senator’s effort. We simply cannot continue to ignore the reality that there is a black market for marijuana. Because it is not taxed by the state, New York is missing out on a tremendous amount of revenue. Right now criminals have a 100 percent share of an industry that allows them to sell anything they can to anyone who will buy it. It follows logically that the state should regulate and tax marijuana from seed to sale. If the state regulates marijuana, it will be safer, and if the state sells it, it will eradicate a vast criminal enterprise. Many opponents of legalization are waiting for Colorado to experience an enormous crisis, but to date the state has only positive news to report, earning just over $5 million in the first week it has been on sale.

Right now, public opinion on marijuana is changing by the day. How fast New York will expand to include new proposals on cannabis remains to be seen, but in a perfect world, we would see Gottfried’s bill signed into law by the governor this year, while we continue to watch the recreational world evolve in Colorado and Washington and learn from those states’ experience.

Assemblyman Steve Katz represents the 94th AD, which includes part of Westchester and Putnam counties. He is also a veterinarian.

Steve Katz