Last week, nine year-old Anna Conte died after a long battle with a seizure disorder. Anna and her family had been at the center of a successful fight to pass a medical marijuana law in New York. Medical marijuana has dramatically reduced life-threatening seizures in other children with Anna’s condition.
Her family, working with patients and caregivers across New York, persuaded lawmakers, who had been considering legislation for eighteen years, to finally pass a medical marijuana law this June. Unfortunately, this legislation came too late for Anna. New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed the bill into law three days after Anna slipped into a coma, has said it will take 18 months or longer to implement the program.
I got to know Anna and her family because their fierce and unrelenting love led them to the halls of Albany where they told their story of Anna’s condition and stood shoulder to shoulder with cancer patients, people living with HIV/AIDS, those living with multiple sclerosis, and other caregivers and patients. They generated thousands of phone calls and signatures to leaders in Albany and organized a community forum in Buffalo that was standing room only.
Despite Anna’s illness, the life-and-death circumstances they faced daily, and the difficulty of engaging in such intense advocacy with a sick child, they made the multiple trips to Albany and always did so with great warmth, humor and passion.
Even now, in the midst of their tragic loss, the Conte family has said they will continue to fight for expedited access to medical marijuana for patients, like Anna, who cannot wait 18 months for the program to be implemented.
Indeed, there are families all across New York who, like the Contes, have lost a loved one since the bill was signed or who are facing the real possibility that their child, parent or partner will simply not survive the 18 months that Gov. Cuomo has said it will take to implement New York’s full medical marijuana patient access system. While not all of these deaths can be prevented by medical marijuana, we have a moral obligation to make this medicine available as soon as possible to those for whom 18 months is simply too long.
That’s why Compassionate Care NY is calling on the Gov. Cuomo and leaders in Albany to work swiftly to establish a temporary emergency program for expediting access to medical marijuana for those with life-threatening or terminal illnesses. By establishing a temporary, interim emergency access program, patients with life-threatening or terminal illnesses won’t have to wait 18 months or longer for the full system to come online.
We can immediately save lives and ease suffering at the end of life by establishing emergency, expedited access. New York cannot stand by while more people die needlessly.
Julie Netherland is the New York deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.