Patients, advocates seek emergency access to medical marijuana in NY; program still year away

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ALBANY, New York — With New York's medical marijuana program not planned to start until next year, parents of children with debilitating neurological conditions on Tuesday urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers to make the drug available now for those with the greatest need.

Legislation to authorize emergency access to the drug while state regulators finalize the details of the problem is pending in the state Assembly. But it faces challenges with Cuomo's administration, which said expediting access for certain patients could delay the larger program and run into federal opposition.

Missy Miller said she doesn't understand the need to wait. Her 15-year-old son Oliver suffers from daily seizures — often dozens or hundreds each day. She said medical marijuana products have shown great promise in helping children with epilepsy.

"We have no medicine. Oliver still seizes daily," said Miller, of Long Island. "It is cruel to let this continue."

When fully implemented sometime in 2016, New York's medical marijuana law will allow patients with AIDS, Parkinson's Disease, epilepsy and certain other conditions to obtain non-smokeable forms of cannabis. On Monday the state issued applications for potential vendors.

Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said the state is working to implement the law "as expeditiously as possible under current federal guidelines."

Last year, federal officials denied New York's request to import marijuana from another medical marijuana state to speed up access for critically ill patients.

"The last thing that anyone would want is legal complications to arise from importing marijuana products over state lines without federal approval," Azzopardi said, adding that expediting access for some patients could create "unnecessary delays" for the wider program.

Even if lawmakers vote to speed up the process for certain patients, the state would need to identify a source of marijuana. Even if a producer was authorized to begin growing plants now it could be months before the medicine is ready. Imports from states with existing medical marijuana programs — or drugs seized by law enforcement — could be other options.

"The governor could make this happen very quickly," said the bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Richard Gottfried of Manhattan.

In other legislative developments Tuesday:

—A founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream spoke out in favor of legislation to require the labeling of foods with ingredients from genetically modified plants.

Jerry Greenfield dismissed complaints from food producers that GMO labels would increase prices and needlessly frighten consumers.

"Any food company ought to be proud to talk about what's in their food," said Greenfield, whose company does not use genetically modified ingredients.

The legislation faces significant opposition from food producers and agricultural companies that say GMOs are a safe and accepted part of modern farming. They successfully blocked the legislation last year.

—The state Assembly voted Tuesday to prohibit employers or landlords from discriminating against someone because they are a victim of domestic violence.

Those two measures were part of a series of bills intended to help victims of domestic violence. Other proposals would mandate that hospitals establish procedures for helping victims and require wireless providers to release victims from a shared or family phone plan without any penalties.

Another initiative would create a pilot program allowing victims to seek an order of protection electronically.

The bills now move to the Senate, which is considering several bills of its own to aid victims.

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