Gov. Cuomo to unveil medical marijuana plan Wednesday

Posted at: 01/06/2014 5:45 PM
Updated at: 01/06/2014 6:30 PM
By: Steve Flamisch

TROY – In the last 21 years, Nancy Rivera has survived colon cancer, throat cancer, and two bouts with breast cancer.

Rivera said chemotherapy and radiation treatments made her sick, and prescription medications never helped. Then she learned about medical marijuana.

"I (wish) it would have come into the picture while I was ill because I could have staved off the nausea, and I wouldn't have lost all the weight the way I did," Rivera said.

Rivera, who is in remission, now serves as a patient advocate for the non-profit Drug Policy Alliance. This week, the group will score a victory in its fight to legalize medical marijuana.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State address Wednesday, will announce a plan to allow limited use of the drug in New York, according to a story first reported by the New York Times.

Up to 20 hospitals statewide will be selected to dispense marijuana to patients living with cancer, glaucoma, and other conditions that meet state-approved standards, the Times reported.

"This is the state undertaking, under state control, a limited program," Cuomo said Monday during a question-and-answer session with reporters. "This is not a law that is implementing a system."

Cuomo is tapping a 35-year-old statute that allows him to take executive action without legislative approval. He told reporters he does not support full legalization of the drug.

But Shaun Marie, the executive director of the state Conservative Party, said marijuana is a "gateway drug" – and that Cuomo’s action is a gateway to recreational use.

"Marijuana is not medicine, OK?" Marie said. "It doesn't cure illnesses. It masks the symptoms of illnesses… This is not really medicine. It’s a way to make it recreational."

Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states, including Massachusetts and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia. A pilot program is also underway in a 21st state, Maryland.

Two states, Colorado and Washington, recently legalized recreational use of marijuana. Marie said she fears that will happen in New York, despite Cuomo’s stated opposition.

Rivera, the four-time cancer survivor, contends it’s not about recreation; it’s about helping people in pain. She and her fellow advocates are pushing for legislation further expanding access.

Assembly Democrats passed a broader medical marijuana bill on four occasions, but Republicans have kept it from reaching the Senate floor.

Gov. Cuomo said he does not sense "legislative hunger" to take up the bill in the upcoming session. That would leave only his executive action, which he will outline this week.