Marc S. Gromis worked as a federal prosecutor for 15 years, going after scam artists who cheated people out of their money. He retired in 2002 as chief of white-collar crime prosecutions in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Buffalo.
Now, he’s starting a new legal career. Gromis is believed to be the first lawyer in Western New York to set up a law office focused solely on the state’s new medical marijuana program.
He wants to help qualified patients and caregivers get access to medical marijuana. He wants to help the state’s authorized producers and sellers of marijuana to avoid legal problems. He wants to help other business people to navigate state laws to become sanctioned sellers. And he wants to help marijuana advocacy groups to fight for improvements in the state’s law.
“New York State’s program for medical marijuana can use a lot of improvement, but it’s a big first step in the right direction,” Gromis said.
While Gromis feels the new medical marijuana program is going to help a lot of people in the state, he believes many more people – including many children – could be helped if the state enacts some changes.
He believes he is the first attorney in Western New York – and possibly in the state – to devote his or her entire practice to medical marijuana issues.
“It’s an issue I feel very passionate about,” said Gromis, 58, who opened his new law office on International Drive in Amherst last week.
The use of marijuana to help people deal with pain and other problems is one of the most important medical developments in years, Gromis said.
“I’ve done research on how medical marijuana can be used to treat some of the illnesses that I have suffered, and many other people have suffered in this country,” Gromis said. “In states where medical marijuana is prescribed for pain, you’ve seen a 25 percent decrease in deaths from opiate drug overdoses.”
As a prosecutor, Gromis handled many of this region’s major federal cases in the 1990s and early 2000s, including cases involving a developer who cheated investors out of millions of dollars, fraudulent telemarketers who stole money from thousands of victims, and two con artists who gave cancer patients false hope by marketing a bogus cure.
Gromis surprised many in Buffalo’s legal community when he retired 14 years ago from federal service at age 45, walking away from a six-figure salary.
“I was burned out,” he explained. “It was very stressful work. I wasn’t sleeping at night, and I was dealing with some serious illnesses, including irritable bowel syndrome, skin cancer and grand mal seizures.”
He ran his own law office for a couple of years but didn’t find it rewarding.
In 2005, Gromis became part-owner of a business that sold industrial hemp in a store on Elmwood Avenue. Hemp is closely related to marijuana, but hemp has very little THC, the compound in marijuana that makes people high. Hemp is used to make a wide variety of products, including clothing, food, soap, building materials and even car parts. Although hemp products can be legally sold here, the U.S. government has not allowed hemp to be grown in this country since 1937.
Gromis got out of the hemp business in 2009, but remains a supporter of hemp, calling it “the most beneficial plant that Mother Nature has ever given us.”
Married to Julie Leatherbarrow, a local artist, since 2007, Gromis has spent most of his time in recent years as a stay-at-home dad to the couple’s two young daughters.
He said his strong feelings about medical marijuana spurred him to return to the practice of law. Gromis said he believes the state’s new program, which took take effect this month, is inadequate in many ways.
“Unless they add more medical conditions that people can use medical marijuana for, it’s going to be difficult for the New York law to be viable,” he said. “The New York law only covers a fraction of the medical conditions that are covered in other states.”
New York law will medical marijuana to be used to treat 10 illnesses, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and neuropathies.
“In most states, it is much simpler. The doctor makes a finding that a patient has a condition for which cannabis may provide relief,” the attorney said.
Gromis noted that, under current law, New York won’t allow patients to smoke marijuana or purchase it in edible forms. “Those are the ways that many people prefer it,” Gromis said. “In New York, you’ll only be able to buy oil extracts of marijuana. In many states, you can buy the marijuana bud and flower. It takes a lot more plants to make oil.”
Hopefully, doctors in New York state will become comfortable with prescribing marijuana for pain management, rather than opioid drugs that “have much more serious side effects,” Gromis said.
And the attorney worries that the region’s only two state-approved marijuana dispensaries will be within a few miles of each other in Amherst, a long ride for people from the Southtowns or Southern Tier.
“I hope there will be many more dispensaries approved in the future,” Gromis said.