(photo: Cannabis Doctors of New York)
New York’s Compassionate Care Act went into effect in January 2016. As the CEO of Cannabis Doctors of New York, a group based in Manhattan, 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 marijuana policy is about to be quickly surpassed by the policies of our neighbors to the east, west, and north in ways that would hit the New York Metropolitan Area particularly hard.
I am urging lawmakers to consider the unfairness of this situation. All law-abiding New Yorkers should be able to have access to the analgesic and other therapeutic qualities of cannabis. Used responsibly, marijuana can be a powerful and important tool in a healthy lifestyle. And it is a vastly better alternative to the drug scourges eating away at our society. For thousands of years the many uses of cannabis have been woven into societies around the world. There has never been a documented overdose.
Meanwhile, 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. Tens of thousands of Americans lose their lives every year due to alcohol — a legal yet far more dangerous substance than marijuana. Enough is enough. It’s time for New York to join the 21st century and pass the pending legislation that would expand the current medical cannabis law and allow our responsible MDs 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). New York needs better patient access.
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. The high approval rating amongst Republicans, Democrats, and independents makes the issue politically safe for elected officials on both sides of the aisle.
Legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in the Empire State could bring $2.5 billion in tourism a year. Much of that money would be spent in the New York City Metropolitan Area (and has been shown in other states would help lower the high price patients are forced to pay now for medical cannabis). Tens of thousands of good jobs would be created, and hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue would be pumped back into the economy to be spent on schools and budget shortfalls. Does our state want to lose billions of dollars to neighboring states and then play catch-up?
It’s disturbing that our leaders in Albany have fallen so out of touch with the times. Right now 20% of Americans live in a state with legal marijuana; 64% of Americans approve of legalized marijuana, and this issue crosses party lines. New York prides itself on being a liberal standard bearer, but on this issue it is sorely lacking leadership. Progressive attitudes just a few miles away are creating jobs and peace of mind and safety for millions of marijuana users. It’s time for us to get with the program. An economic boost, thousands of good jobs, and a more compassionate public health policy is just a bill away.
Dr. Kenneth Weinberg is CEO of Cannabis Doctors of New York.