Fast on the heels of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to study the feasibility of legalizing recreational marijuana, state lawmakers introduced legislation to the Senate and Assembly to allow the use of medical marijuana to treat “opioid use disorder.” Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan), who introduced the measure, got the bill approved by the Assembly Health Committee with a 23-1 vote last month.
“We have an opioid crisis and people are dying, and this may be a path to keep people from dying and keep them from relapsing,” said O’Donnell to the New York Daily News.
O’Donnell along with other supporters of the bill point to research that shows access to medical marijuana helps reduce opioid dependency, addiction and death. Medical marijuana, in fact, appears to be an “exit drug” from the opioid epidemic, which kills nearly a hundred Americans daily.
Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), who sponsored the medical marijuana legalization bill that went on to become law in 2014, is backing this bill with the hopes of getting it approved by June—when legislative sessions come to a close.
If the bill passes the Senate and Governor Cuomo then signs the bill into law, opioid use disorder would further expand the list of New York’s qualifying conditions, which includes cancer, epilepsy, chronic pain and most recently post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It would also make New York the first state to recognize medical marijuana as a possible solution for opioid dependency and addiction. And it could serve as a catalyst for other states to follow suit—while flying in the face of anti-marijuana rhetoric put forward by Chris Christie, who chairs the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
Christie continues to ignore a growing body of evidence that finds cannabis to be a safer alternative to opioids when it comes to relieving chronic pain. And he refuses to acknowledge that there might be something to the fact that opioid-related deaths have dropped in Colorado where recreational marijuana is legal.
Meanwhile, public opinion has likely swayed Governor Cuomo, who once called cannabis a “gateway drug [that] leads to other drugs.” He’s since reconsidered his stance and is proposing a cost, benefit and risk analysis of legalizing marijuana for adult use.
Time will tell if New York will take a page out of New Jersey’s book to move “full weed ahead” with recreational marijuana. In the meantime, getting opioid use disorder approved will be a good step towards further opening up the medical marijuana program, which currently includes 43,250 certified patients.
Photo credit: Cindy Shebley