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Another Voice: State should expand the availability of medical marijuana

By Junella Chin

New York’s Compassionate Care Act went into effect in January of 2016. As a leading cannabis certified physician here in the state of New York, I’ve been at the forefront of treatment using cannabis and have seen the life-changing results its thoughtful and judicious use can provide. Prescription marijuana medication has helped my patients safely cope with a variety of serious ailments such as cancer, AIDS, chronic pain and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. However our state’s medical marijuana policy has not lived up to its potential, and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers from Buffalo to Long Island and everywhere in between have been depraved of the care they are entitled to.

It comes down to the numbers. There are only 22 dispensaries that are currently operating in New York. Florida is about the same size and allows for 425 dispensaries. Patients suffering from severe conditions do not have enough access to the medicine they are legally entitled to. I am urging lawmakers to consider the unfairness of this situation and pass bill s8148 in the State Senate. This measure would allow for up to 250 more dispensaries in our very large states. There are currently only four dispensaries serving Western New York’s three million residents. All New Yorkers suffering from cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, Huntington's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic pain should have access to the analgesic and other therapeutic qualities of cannabis.

A growing body of research proves that cannabis is an effective tool in safely treating ailments that are now being treated with opioids and in fact, it is being shown to help wean patients off narcotics. As a doctor, I’ve seen these results. Some 9,000 New Yorkers overdosed on opioids last year. Enough is enough. It’s time for New York to join the 21st century and expand the current medical cannabis law, increase patient access and allow our responsible MD’s to use their judgement in treating the many conditions that could be helped by cannabis (and that were originally included in the Compassionate Care Act).  The key to better patient access and more compassionate medical policy in New York is the authorization of additional dispensary retail outlets.

This is a social justice issue and an economic issue in addition to being good medical policy, as is seen every day in New York and the 28 other states plus the District of Columbia where medical cannabis has been legalized. Recent news out of Albany suggests that many government officials and candidates are changing their mind on recreational marijuana. Before New York considers that, I urge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature to consider the health of our state’s most needy residents. Show some compassion and expand and enhance the Compassionate Care Act.

Junella Chin, M.D., is a cannabis certified physician based in White Plains.

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