A bill that would allow expedited access to medical marijuana for certain patients has been sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature. Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried and sponsor of the bill, made the announcement early Monday morning. In making the announcement, Gottfried expressed concerns about “a real danger” that seriously ill patients may not be able to access medical marijuana come January.
The Medical Marijuana Expedited Access bill comes after a state medical-marijuana program was passed in 2014, the new law is to be up and running by January 1, 2016. It allows for medical marijuana in non-smokeable forms for patients suffering from severe illnesses, particularly children is chronic epilepsy.
“Hopefully, the system will be up and running on schedule” Gottfried said in a statement. “However, if problems develop, the bill could provide tools that the Health Department and some desperately ill patients and their families will be very grateful to have.”
Many have been critical of the state’s medical marijuana program, and the slow establishment of the law. Licenses were handed out last summer to five companies that will grow and sell the drug. Each company will be allowed to operate four dispensaries. To this point, it would appear companies are following the schedule prescribed by the state Department of Health.
Gottfried said the legislation could provide tools to the Health Department and ill patients if problems occur during the medical marijuana production and distribution process. The bill gives the state Department of Health the flexibility to modify requirements of the 2014 medicinal marijuana law and regulations to speed up the process.
Advocates rallied last session for passage of the bill amid concerns from some lawmakers that expedited access would jeopardize the fledgling medical marijuana program before it was even off the ground.
The Cuomo administration also had expressed concerns about the bill, given that marijuana still remains federally illegal. Advocates had countered that it was highly unlikely, given legal use of marijuana in other states, that the feds would tie up New York over offering expedited access to the drug to a limited number of patients.
When the bill passed the Senate, a Cuomo spokesman said the administration would review the legislation in the context of implementing the Compassionate Care Act and complying with existing federal statutes.
Cuomo has until Nov. 11 to decide what he wants to do with the bill.
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