© 2023 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Medical marijuana supporters say NY's new law must be fixed

Karen DeWitt

Proponents of New York’s new medical marijuana law say so far, it’s barely functioning, and they say major revisions are necessary to allow more than just a tiny number of patients to benefit.

New York’s limited medical marijuana began in January, but advocates and patients say it has not worked out as well as they hoped. They say strict limits on diseases that are eligible for treatment, no insurance coverage, and near complete lack of doctors who have undergone the required training and will prescribe the medicine has left them frustrated.

Susan Rusinco lives in Auburn, New York, and is treated for multiple sclerosis at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She lobbied for the law in Albany, which is known as the Compassionate Care Act, back in 2014. But she says to her dismay, in the three months since the law took effect, she has not been able to obtain the drug through any of her doctors.

“The Compassionate Care Act passed, but I have yet to experience any of the compassion,” Rusinco said.

She says her doctors have told her they don’t want to go through the regulations required by the New York State Department of Helath to become certified prescribers. Rusinco wants to see the law expanded to allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe the medicine.

Advocates say the diseases treated should be expanded to include chronic pain, which could help limit the rampant opioid addiction that’s led to the heroin epidemic.

Jason Pinsky, of Brooklyn, became addicted to OxyContin after a back operation. He says medical marijuana has helped him while he struggled to quit his addiction.

“My ability to taper off of opiates has been solely due to my experience using cannabis concentrates and extracts as medicine,” he said.

Pinsky has been off of opiates for almost two years now. But he says if it could be used for chronic pain in the first place, many people would not become addicted to opiates.

Potential patients say without medical marijuana covered by health insurance, the cost of one dose of the medicine can be unaffordable.

Kate Hintz lives in Westchester with her daughter, Morgan, who suffers from chronic epileptic seizures.  Hintz and her daughter were frequent visitors at the Capitol two years ago when the law was passed.

“It’s unacceptable,” Hintz said. “New York must do better.”

Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried was the law’s prime sponsor in the Assembly.

“If I had a free hand in writing the medical marijuana law, it would be a very different law,” said Gottfried. “You wouldn’t have had the legislature trying to practice medicine by listing specific conditions.”

Gottfried says in order to get the bill passed, there had to be compromise with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and some in the state Senate, who were initially against legalizing medical marijuana. He denies the law is a failure, but says it has a long way to go, and is fixable.

Gottfried says three bills have already been reported out of committee to expand the powers to prescribe medical marijuana to more health care professionals, increase the types of illnesses that can be treated. They would also create an advisory committee to, among other things, review cases when Governor Cuomo’s health department denies the treatment for patients and their caregivers.

A spokesman for Cuomo says only that the bills will be reviewed.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.