Witnesses at state hearing in Buffalo urge legalizing medical marijuana - The Buffalo News
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Witnesses at state hearing in Buffalo urge legalizing medical marijuana

Paige Figi traveled all the way from Colorado to tout the benefits of medical marijuana during a New York State hearing Thursday in Buffalo.

Figi was one of more than two dozen speakers invited to testify about the benefits of legalizing medical marijuana in New York. She encouraged Assembly members conducting the hearing to sanction its use for patients facing severe or terminal illnesses.

Figi’s daughter, Charlotte, has Dravet’s syndrome, a devastating seizure disorder that is untreatable by conventional medicines. Before gaining access to medical marijuana, which is legal in Colorado, Charlotte suffered up to 1,200 seizures a month, Figi said.

“When she was 5 years old, I had heard about a case in California, and I decided to try medical marijuana. It’s legal, and I fought for it. There were huge obstacles, even in a legal state,” Figi told the hearing in Common Council Chambers at City Hall.

To alleviate the concerns of those harboring visions of very young, sick children toking up, Figi and others explained that the strain of cannabis used to treat epileptic seizures is very low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the principal psychoactive substance in marijuana that gets users high. Nor is it administered through smoking, she said, when used to prevent seizures. Charlotte has cannabis oil added to her food.

“It has no potential for abuse. This is not a desirable drug for the recreational market, because there is no high associated with it,” Figi said.

“We started Charlotte on a therapy, and she instantly went seven days seizure-free from the first dose,” Figi added. “Now we’re two years into this treatment, and she remains over 99.9 percent seizure-free.”

Christine Emerson, of Rochester, whose daughter, Julia, also suffers from debilitating epileptic seizures, made a plea for the State Senate to pass the Assembly bill legalizing medical marijuana this year.

“If legislation fails to be addressed, … we will be forced to leave the state and head to Colorado, along with other families who have already done so to obtain medical treatment,” Emerson said.

Others who testified Thursday included Dr. Steven A. Lakomy, an emergency room physician at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston, who spoke about the analgesic benefits of medical marijuana, particularly for cancer patients who come to the ER seeking relief from intense pain and nausea. “Based on the evidence, marijuana is safe and effective for certain clinical conditions, especially for nausea and anorexia, which is a loss of appetite,” Lakomy said.

“These patients simply want something that might make their lives worth living a few days, weeks or months. Please keep in mind that while these are my patients, they may be your friend, or they may be your relative, or they may even be you or me someday. So I’m asking you to give me one more weapon to relieve such suffering,” he said as his appealed to the State Legislature.

Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, D-Manhattan, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Health, presided over Thursday’s hearing, which was called to gather testimony about the benefits of medical marijuana. The transcripts of the testimony will be archived and made available to state lawmakers who may consider supporting legislation in the Assembly that would allow the medical use of marijuana under a health care practitioner’s care for patients with cancer and other severe or life-threatening illnesses.

“This bill, I believe, if it came to the floor of the Senate, there would be more than enough votes for it to pass,” Gottfried said.

“The big issue is whether we can get the Senate Republican leadership to decide that this is a bill they want to bring to the floor,” he said, adding that if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo were to advance a medical marijuana proposal, “I think it would become law very quickly.”

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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