A bill that would expedite access to medical marijuana for severely ill patients in New York will head to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk.
The Republican-controlled Senate passed legislation Monday night that would create a “special certification” for patients with a “progressive and degenerative” disease or whose life or health is at risk without the drug. Those patients would be allowed access to medical marijuana before the state’s program officially launches in January.
The bill would allow the state Department of Health to suspend certain requirements, allowing it to immediately award a license to grow and distribute the drug, which critics have said may open the state up to a lawsuit.
Parents of children with rare forms of epilepsy had urged lawmakers to support the legislation, traveling repeatedly to the state Capitol to push for its passage.
“This will help a select group of patients that may not survive as they wait for the Compassionate Care Act (New York’s medical marijuana program) to be fully formatted and in place,” said Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, Oneida County.
The Senate passed the bill by a 50-12 vote after the Democrat-controlled Assembly passed it last week.
It now heads to Cuomo, a Democrat who has not signaled whether he will sign it into law. Cuomo’s office could not immediately be reached for comment late Monday.
The bill had won support in recent weeks from Griffo, who voted against a bill last year that authorized the state’s medical marijuana program.
Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, spoke out against the legislation, which she said could lead to legal complications that have the potential to delay the launch the state’s medical marijuana program in January.
Savino helped lead the effort to legalize medical marijuana last year.
“We need to stay the course we have set,” Savino said. “We are on the right road. We will have full access for all patients, not just cherry-picking the suffering of some — even if they’re sympathetic.”