New York: Governor Pledges To Revive State’s Dormant Medical Cannabis Program

New York: Governor Pledges To Revive State's Dormant Medical Cannabis Program

New York, NY: Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo intends to revive a dormant state law that allows for cannabis to be dispensed by physicians in hospital settings. The Governor formally announced his intentions during his State of the State address on Wednesday, acknowledging, "Research suggests that marijuana can help manage the pain of cancer and other serious illnesses."

Under his announced plan, physicians at up to 20 hospitals throughout the state will be permitted to authorize qualifying patients to use cannabis therapeutically. Governor Cuomo said that he intends to implement the program via executive action rather than by an act of the legislature. In previous years, proposals to legalize the broader therapeutic use of the plant have passed the state Assembly but have stalled in the Senate.

Under a 1980 state law known as the Antonio G.Olivieri Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Program, physicians possess the ability to prescribe cannabis to patients as an investigational new drug. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, dozens of states enacted similar laws, which relied on federal officials to provide government-grown cannabis to state health departments. However, only a limited number of states – California, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, and Vermont – ever successfully implemented these specific types of federally coordinated therapeutic research programs, all of which were discontinued by the mid-1980s.

More recent state efforts to resurrect similar programs have not been successful.

In 2013, Maryland lawmakers enacted legislation to allow the substance to be dispensed at teaching hospitals. To date, however, no hospitals have volunteered to participate in the program and two of the state’s largest institutions, Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical System, have publicly said that they will not have any involvement in the proposed system.

According to a 2012 statewide Siena College Research Institute poll, 82 percent of New Yorkers support the legalization of cannabis when authorized by a physician. Until this year, Gov. Cuomo had previously been on record opposing the therapeutic use of marijuana regardless of the circumstances.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, or Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director, at (202) 483-5500.