Lawmakers and veterans are split on legislation that would allow sufferers of post traumatic stress disorder access to medical marijuana through the state Compassionate Care program as it sits on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk waiting for his decision.
Both houses of the state legislature passed a bill this year that would allow the use of liquid or vapor marijuana to treat PTSD under its current law that allows such prescriptions for certain conditions.
“[The governor] has 10 days to sign it. It is on his desk,” said Robert Becker, executive director of the Veterans Council, a group that advocated for the passage of the bill. “Hopefully he is looking at it.”
Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-102, said he believes the governor will sign the legislation into law.
“I think he will sign it. I don’t know why he wouldn’t,” Lopez said.
According to data collected by the RAND Corp., a think tank that does research on the U.S. military, 8,000 veterans from New York who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD.
According to the same data, more than 750 servicemen and women from the Capital Region suffer from PTSD.
State Sen. George Amedore, R-46, opposes the bill. He could not be reached for comment.
New York finalized its medical marijuana program in 2014.
Lopez said he opposed the original medical marijuana legislation because it left people to find marijuana plants or other marijuana on their own.
“I wanted the same process as any other medication; doctors prescribe the drug and pharmacists distribute,” Lopez said. “Now we have a thoughtful and safe process for getting medical marijuana.”
A problem arises because the federal government still considers marijuana a schedule one controlled substance, ranking with heroin and LSD, and so prohibits Veterans Affairs clinics in states that allow medical marijuana use to prescribe the drug.
“I’m disappointed the federal government has not done the same thing we have done in New York,” Lopez said. “We have so many drugs that are worse that doctors can prescribe.”
The VA Hospital in Albany provides help to veterans suffering from PTSD.
Jennifer Audette, chief of social work at the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, said, “We have a program that veterans can connect with a mental health clinician on a tablet for treatment.”
Veterans can use their own tablets or iPads or the VA provides them with one, all after a psychological evaluation.
The House of Representatives is sitting on a bill that would require the secretary of Veteran Affairs to allow VA health care providers to offer recommendations and opinions to patients on participating in state medical marijuana programs.
“There are people suffering out there and it is our job to allow them to get relief,” Lopez said. “If we can help these people get relief in a humane and safe way, that is good for everyone.”