The New York Department of Health made a surprising announcement last week regarding the state’s policy on medical marijuana use. Chronic pain is now on the state list of prescribed uses under New York’s ‘Compassionate Care Act.’
This is a huge step in the right direction for New York as it will significantly expand the ability of doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients in the state. Within the next few weeks, the Department of Health will expand on what “Chronic pain” means and which illnesses qualify for treatment of it. Presumptively, a number of people who will qualify for medical marijuana in New York will increase exponentially.
According to the National Organization of Reform for Marijuana Law (NORML), state-by-state definitions of “chronic pain” differ. Often, they refer to neuropathic (nerve-related) pain from illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS.
In a statement announcing the decision, New York state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker said:
“After conducting a thorough review of the scientific literature, it became clear that there may be certain benefits in the use of medical marijuana by patients suffering from chronic pain. Medical marijuana is already helping thousands of patients across New York State, and adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition will help more patients and further strengthen the program.”
Reasons for Optimism
There are many reasons why Cannabis advocates in New York should feel optimistic. The state’s continued expansion of its marijuana program means progress toward complete legalization.
First, this morning’s statement also included a couple of other promising announcements. Nurse practitioners will be authorized to certify patients for medical marijuana. The hope for this provision is that potential medical marijuana patients in New York will have an easier, less expensive time finding a certified prescriber. Nurse practitioners authorized under this system are required to earn a certificate from the NYS Department of Health.
Next, doctors are going to be able to prescribe marijuana to treat symptoms of illnesses as opposed to pharmaceutical painkillers. Hopefully, there will be a decline in the amounts of prescriptions written for potentially addictive painkillers.
The largest reason to feel optimistic: Massachusetts. Earlier this month, the Bay State passed a ballot amendment legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Legislators and cannabis advocates agree that Massachusetts could force New York’s hand on marijuana. Why?
If large numbers of people are bringing marijuana into the state from it’s more liberal neighbor, New York might have to face the reality of a ‘floodgates issue.’ This means that the legislature might have no choice but to accept the inevitable.
Marijuana cannot be ‘legalized’ in New York the same way it was in Massachusetts, California or Colorado. This is because for recreational marijuana use to be legalized in New York, it must be done through the State Assembly. This means that a bill must be passed by New York’s legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In the past, Governor Cuomo has not openly supported recreational legalization in the state. Cuomo’s political positions might change. (Could he be pursuing high office in 2020?) Since the 2016 Election, Cuomo has sent out a constant stream of emails highlighting the state’s commitment to liberal causes.
In one such email, he concluded, “New York State is the progressive capital of the nation and its social conscience. New York is the laboratory of the American experiment in democracy…” All of this echoes a sentiment of championing equality within the state. Perhaps Cuomo is becoming more included to sign the bill if it hits his desk.
Marijuana Legalization in New York
Marijuana legalization in New York state means more than just allowing adults to smoke cannabis when they please.
Legalization in New York means less vulnerable patients getting addicted to costly and dangerous painkillers. This means the government shirks some of the influence of the billion dollar drug and pharmaceutical companies; thus, it restores some control of health care back to local businesses and doctors.
Legalization in New York state means minorities are no longer arrested disproportionately on marijuana-related charges and sent to Rikers Island.
Legalization in New York means that people suffering Chronic pain no longer have to fear police intervention from the stench they might give off when smoking.
Legalization in New York means doing the will of the citizens in a country where more than 60% of people support recreational use. The last poll conducted in New York on the topic, collected in 2014, showed that nearly 90% of New Yorkers support medical marijuana use.
Legalization in New York means billions of dollars in potential tax revenue, and what state doesn’t want that?