GMHC Applauds Assembly Passage of Med. Marijuana Bill

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Friday Jun 14, 2013

AIDS Service Organizations are applauding the New York State Assembly's recent passage of legislation that will allow physicians to discuss and prescribe medical marijuana for patients with severe conditions, including HIV/AIDS. The legislation now moves to the state senate, where it faces a tough challenge.

"As a survivor of breast cancer, my challenges this year taught me first-hand the issues that GMHC's clients go through. I lived through immune suppression, neuropathy, skin issues, medication reactions and deep sadness about my health," said Janet Weinberg, Chief Operating Officer of GMHC. "Each one of these issues parallels the lives of someone living with HIV. Therefore, I am relieved that medical marijuana could be a possible treatment for me and so many others."

On June 3, the New York State Assembly approved Assembly Bill 6357 in a 95-38 vote. The legislation would create one of the most tightly regulated medical marijuana programs in the country, prescribed by doctors to alleviate the suffering of those with serious, debilitating illnesses, so that they may have access to a small amount of medical marijuana to relieve their symptoms. It will now move to the Senate as Senate Bill 4406.

This bill effectively regulates and requires monitoring of the sale and distribution of medical marijuana to those with severe medical conditions, in doses not to exceed 2.5 ounces. Patients' certifications would be electronically tracked and include picture identification, as well as their physician's contact information.

In addition, the legislation would generate new revenue. Registered distributors would pay taxes on marijuana sales, fifty percent of which would be paid to the county in which the marijuana was distributed. Additionally, the legislation protects registered patients from discrimination in housing, employment, healthcare, and education based on the use of medical marijuana. Currently, 82 percent of New Yorkers support medical marijuana.

Research indicates that medical marijuana provides much-needed therapeutic and palliative relief for many of the side effects caused by anti-retroviral medications. For example, the National Institute of Medicine found that marijuana could be more effective than currently available medications for treating symptoms like nausea, loss of appetite, physical pain and anxiety. Medical marijuana is a proven and effective alternative for New Yorkers when other medications and treatments have failed.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, however, has called medical marijuana "one of the greatest hoaxes of all time." Only one day earlier, the New England Journal of Medicine released a survey of physicians finding that 76 percent of those surveyed would approve medical marijuana for use to reduce pain in a cancer patient. And the group NY Physicians for Compassionate Care announced that more than 600 physicians from across the state support medical marijuana and would prescribe it to seriously ill patients.

"This is a medication, far safer than many of the medications we already use, that has been proven effective for chronic and neuropathic pain, appetite stimulation and nausea," said Howard Grossman, MD, a New York City-based physician and Chair of NY Physicians for Compassionate Care. "As doctors, we want to do what's best for our patients, and that includes recommending medical marijuana for some patients. We urge the Senate to do the sensible and humane thing and pass the Compassionate Care Act now."

Eighteen 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.

"From Delaware to Maine, almost every state allows medical use of marijuana," said Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, Committee Chair and sponsor of the bill, noting that 18 states and the District of Columbia currently have medical marijuana laws. "If the patient and physician agree that a severe debilitating or life-threatening condition should be treated with medical marijuana, the government should not stand in the way. This is sensible, strict, and humane legislation."

"We thank Assembly Member Gottfried and Senator Diane Savino for their leadership on this bill," added Weinberg. "For many New Yorkers, particularly those living with HIV, this legislation will dramatically ease pain and suffering."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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