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Fresh off his primary win, Gov. Cuomo signs bill expanding medical cannabis as opioid alternative

Fresh off of his win against Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation on Monday that adds acute pain management to the list of conditions to which medical cannabis can be recommended as an opioid alternative. According to a statement released by the governor’s office, the bill also allows for substance use disorder providers to recommend cannabis for pain the contributes the use of opioid pain medication.

"In this battle against the opioid epidemic, it is critical that we use every means at our disposal to prevent the unnecessary prescription of these dangerous and addictive painkillers," Gov. Cuomo said in a statement. "Adding these conditions to the list of those approved for management with medical marijuana will help reduce the risk of addiction and provide suffering New Yorkers the relief they need."

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Following the governor’s primary win on September 13, many wondered if he would waver on his campaign promises concerning the expansion of cannabis programs in the state. A staunch opponent of cannabis reform, Cuomo was pushed further left on the issue by his Democratic rival, former “Sex and The City” star Cynthia Nixon.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse

According to NORML, Cuomo currently holds a C- grade on the cannabis issue, having commissioned a study on the viability of legalizing recreational cannabis last year despite positive results in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and other states. As recently as 2017 Cuomo was quoted as saying cannabis was a “gateway drug,” while stating his opposition to recreational marijuana.

“As of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana. If you choose to use marijuana recreationally, you know the law,” the governor said last year. As Nixon crept up in the polls, his position took a sharp turn left.

His win earlier this month left many cannabis advocates waiting with bated breath, wondering which version of Andrew Cuomo would continue to walk among his constituents. Monday’s legislation is a small but positive step in the right direction according to many.

"We know that medical marijuana can be a helpful alternative for a wide range of illnesses and conditions," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in a statement. "By expanding the approved list, we are providing New Yorkers with new options, and preventing the danger that comes from opioid addiction."

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Whether or not medical marijuana is a solid treatment for substance use disorder has yet to be determined, with mixed evidence coming from research-backed studies. One such study oft-cited from “JAMA Internal Medicine” published in May 2018 showed that when a medical cannabis dispensary opens in a state, Medicare Part D opioid prescriptions fall by roughly 15 percent —3.7 million doses in real numbers. However, more recently, researchers at Stanford University and University College Cork in Ireland found that medical cannabis users are twice as likely to abuse prescription drugs such as opioids.

Still, with the opioid epidemic running rampant politicians are looking for anything to help stem the tide of overdose deaths. And from a purely political —and cynical viewpoint, medical marijuana is a winner right now, at least in a state as blue as New York.

"Opioid addiction does not discriminate, impacting New Yorkers of all ages, genders, and races,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard N. Gottfried in a statement praising the governor. “Evidence from across the country shows that access to medical marijuana for pain treatment reduces the use of far more dangerous opioids. Medical marijuana is a safe and effective alternative for treating pain.  I commend the Governor for signing the bill and will continue working to expand access to medical marijuana for patients in need."


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