Cuomo seeks U.S. waiver on medical marijuana

Below is an excerpt and a couple of key points from an article By Tom Precious of Buffalo News published September 28, 2014.
ALBANY – Less than a year after he opposed the use of medical marijuana, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is now asking the U.S. Justice Department for a waiver to permit the state to import limited amounts of marijuana for the treatment of seriously ill children and young adults who suffer from rare seizure disorders.

A mid-August letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., followed by another correspondence Friday to the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, seeks federal permission for New York to work with private companies to supply special strains of marijuana that have been found to offer relief for children with the rare forms of epilepsy that can result in hundreds of seizures a day and, in some cases, death.

Lawmakers had a provision in the medical marijuana bill to permit the state, on an emergency basis, to provide limited access to the drug by manufacturers who grow and make the specific strain for children with the seizure disorders while the broader program was being developed by Zucker and the Health Department. Cuomo, however, did not go along with that provision in the final bill.

State officials are seeking a “narrow, time-limited” waiver from the federal government that would expire when New York’s broader medical marijuana-dispensing program begins.

That program is highly restrictive. It limits the drug’s dispensing, at least in the beginning, to 10 specific diseases or conditions, including AIDS, cancer, Parkinson’s and certain spinal cord injuries. Unlike all but one other state, it bans the sale of medical marijuana in a smoking form, limiting its distribution to pills, oils, extracts, edibles and vapor-based formats. A total of 20 dispensing sites across the state will be operated by four private companies that will grow and provide the drug to patients who have been preapproved by their physicians and the state Health Department.

Cuomo, at any time, could halt the program on his own if his Health Department or law enforcement advisers raise red flags about its implementation, such as diversion of the drug for recreational instead of medicinal use. Unlike other medications sold in New York, medical marijuana sales will be subject to a 7 percent tax.

In its pitch to the Justice Department, the Cuomo administration said the new medical marijuana law in New York complies with the edicts set down in an August 2013 by Cole to U.S. attorneys nationwide. That memo reiterated that marijuana is illegal and considered dangerous and that the Justice Department will continue to prosecute marijuana-related cases, although its focus would be on a number of specific areas, including preventing its distribution to minors or as ways for criminal operations to make money or drug-related violence.

The acting health commissioner’s letter to Cole on Friday was sent a day after Holder announced he would be stepping down as attorney general after a successor is confirmed. Cole is among those being discussed as a possible successor.

In the letter last month to Holder, Zucker acknowledged that marijuana is not a cure for the seizure disorders but that there is “objective medical evidence” to show that serious seizure cases can be helped with CBD, the medical marijuana strain.

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