Evolving attitudes about marijuana are resonating among some elected officials in New York.
Democratic state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters Wednesday that he wants to broaden the debate about legalizing marijuana to include proposals to help those struggling with past criminal convictions for the drug. "If we're gonna get to the point where it's gonna be legal and recreational, then why should people now still be having trouble getting jobs and having a record for something that now could be legal."
A state task force created by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is poised to release a report on possible legalization any day. Bills that would subject marijuana use to regulations and taxes have long been introduced in the legislature.
Capital Region Republican George Amedore, co-Chair of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Abuse and Senator Kemp Hannon, Chair of the Senate Health Committee, held a press conference Thursday morning on legislation that would allow the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids. "This has nothing to do with recreational marijuana and legalizing that at all. This talks about cannabis oil."
Amedore is sponsoring a bill that would augment the existing medical marijuana law, which he says would help mitigate the opioid crisis by empowering doctors to prescribe medical marijuana in certain instances, instead of addictive opioids. "Someone who has gone through the detox to treatment to be recovered and be in recovery, then having to go through maybe a health issue or have some episodic pain that, being prescribed opiate brings them back to that place. And we don't want them to go back to the place of being bound by addiction."
Amedore introduced Désirée Little, a young nurse who was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease in 2007. Doctors treated her with ever-increasing doses and combinations of opioids until she could barely function. She went on disability in 2009 and was bedridden for nearly 24 hours a day. "Even with opiate medications, I never had total pain relief, and I couldn't stand or walk for more than 45 minutes. Daily tasks like grocery shopping were practically unbearable. No amount of opiate could stop the pain once it started. So in my mid-20's I was in bed all the time."
Faced with a health crisis earlier this year, she decided to go "cold turkey" off narcotics, opting for a medicinal cannabis program. In three months, she dextoxed and says she is now opiate-free and has resumed a normal life. Little noted there is a vast difference between medical marijuana and the recreational variety. "For someone in my situation who's looking for pain relief and looking for it for medicinal effect, if I go buy marijuana off the street, they can't tell me how much THC, if there's any CDB in it. They can't tell me if it's clean, if it's a clean product and what benefit I'm going to get. A dispensary, like Pharmacannis, can tell you that."
Amedore says his bill would help mitigate the opioid crisis and give patients in recovery an alternative method of pain relief.
The bill now goes to the Senate Health Committee. Amedore says Democrat Dick Gottfried is sponsoring a similar measure in the Assembly.