Why I Want the New York State Senate to Stop Playing Politics with Patients' Lives

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January 24, 2014 - By Julie Netherland

Some days – and today is one of them – I wake up wishing that the New York State Senate leadership could spend the day answering my phone, because every day I receive calls from patients and caregivers who want me to explain to them why the Senate has refused to vote on the Compassionate Care Act, a bill that would establish a carefully regulated medical marijuana program in New York.

This morning, I took call from a 63 year-old man calling on behalf of his 84 year-old neighbor asking where his friend could register to receive medical marijuana in New York because she no longer felt safe purchasing marijuana on the street to treat her the side effects from her cancer chemotherapy.  I had to tell him New York does not yet have a program whereby she could obtain medical marijuana legally.

Yesterday, I talked to a mom who is splitting up her family and relocating to Colorado to try a potentially life-saving strain of medical marijuana for her daughter who suffers from a severe and treatment-resistant seizure disorder.

Last week, a patient with severe multiple sclerosis called wanting to know how much longer she would be forced to suffer the pain associated with her spasticity – which was now limiting her ability to walk – before she could legally obtain the medical marijuana she knows would provide her relief.

Each and every one of these people want to know: why has the New York State Senate refused to vote on the Compassionate Care Act in the face of their needless suffering?  Why, indeed?

Working with Compassionate Care NY, a statewide campaign working to pass a bill that would create a carefully regulated state medical marijuana law, I find myself talking to people almost every day who are dumbfounded by New York’s outdated and retrograde refusal to join the twenty other states who created legal access to medical marijuana.

They have hard questions for the New York State Senate -- questions that I can’t answer.

“Haven’t they read the science?”

“Don’t they care that my mother is spending her last days suffering needlessly?”

“Don’t they know that families are tearing themselves apart and leaving New York just to obtain the medicine they need?”

“Why can I get opioid pain pills and other dangerous medications that kill thousands each year, while they refuse me access to medical marijuana that is comparatively safe?”

“How can it be polling and common sense show that the vast majority of New Yorkers from all political stripes and regions of the state support medical marijuana but our Senate won’t even allow the bill to come up for a vote? Don’t we live in a democracy?”

These folks are angry and rightfully so.  And so am I.

The science is clear, the feasibility of implementing well-regulated programs has been well-established, the vast majority of New Yorkers want the legislature to take action, and the sick and suffering among us have waited long enough.  It’s heartbreaking to tell cancer patients, people living with HIV/AIDS, parents of children with life-threatening seizures, those suffering from multiple sclerosis and ALS and fibromyalgia and host of other debilitating illnesses that they must choose between breaking the law, moving to another state where medical marijuana is legal, or suffering needlessly.

The Senate’s inaction is incomprehensible to sick and suffering patients I talk to everyday and it’s incomprehensible – and frankly reprehensible – to me. It’s time for the New York State Senate to stop playing politics with people’s lives and pass the Compassionate Care Act – or explain to those who are suffering every day from Albany’s inaction why they must continue to wait.

Julie Netherland is the New York deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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