Pubdate: Wed, 05 Jul 2017
Source: Journal News, The (NY)
Copyright: 2017 The Gannett Company, Inc.
Author: Jon Campbell


ALBANY - Veterans groups are pressing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow those
with post-traumatic stress disorder to use medical marijuana, urging
him to sign a bill that will soon head to his desk.

The state Senate voted late last month to add PTSD to the list of
illnesses and ailments eligible for the state's medical-marijuana
program, about six weeks after the Assembly voted to do the same.

It remains unclear, however, whether Cuomo will sign the bill that
could significantly expand the number of eligible patients in New
York's medical-marijuana program, which is among the more restrictive
in the nation.

The state Council of Veterans Organizations wrote to the Democratic
governor last month, asking him to approve the measure while noting
PTSD affects veterans at a higher rate than the general public.

"We support it, because we really like the way (lawmakers) put this
bill together," said Robert Becker, executive director of the veterans
council. "The only trouble is we don't know if the governor is going
to pass it. I think he's looking for more research on how marijuana
will affect PTSD."

Nationwide, about 8 percent of the general population will experience
PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the National Center
for PTSD.

The number is higher among veterans who served in Operation Iraqi 
Freedom in Iraq or Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: Between 11 
and 20 percent in any given year, the center found.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, and
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, who were the main sponsors
of the state's original medical-marijuana law passed in 2014.

Research surrounding medical marijuana use among PTSD patients remains
light, hindered in part by the drug still being illegal at the federal
level. But the relatively small amount of studies in the public realm
on the topic have shown promise, according to the sponsors' bill memo.

Cuomo's office so far has not tipped its hand.

The state Department of Health, which has the ability to add ailments
to the medical-marijuana program on its own, has said it is
researching the issue.

As for Cuomo, he has not signaled whether he intends to sign the bill.
He will have 10 days excluding Sundays to decide once the Assembly
formally sends it to his desk, which has not yet happened.

"The bill remains under review by counsel's office, and the issue
remains under review by the Department of Health," Cuomo spokesman
Rich Azzopardi said Wednesday.

New York's medical-marijuana program first took effect in early 2016
under a series of tight restrictions, including a ban on smokeable
forms of the drug and a limited list of 10 illnesses patients had to
suffer from to participate in the program at ill.

In March, the Department of Health added chronic pain to the list of
ailments, which helped boost the number of patients certified to use
medical marijuana from 12,764 in late January to 22,811 late last month.

Patient advocates, however, still say the drug remains difficult and
expensive to obtain in New York and have called on the state to do
more to make it more widely available.

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker announced last month the state
would allow doctors to become certified in the state's
medical-marijuana program and certify patients for it in the same day,
a move he said would help streamline the state's process.

"This is another important step in the program's growth, as we
continue to see a major increase in patients since the addition of
chronic pain as a qualifying condition," Zucker said in a statement.
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