Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 3, 2014

State health chief sees marijuana study within a year

ALBANY — New York's health commissioner told lawmakers on Monday that he expects the state trial of medical marijuana to be up and running within a year.

Dr. Nirav Shah, testifying before a legislative budget committee, said that the research is intended to examine the drug's effectiveness in patient treatment, for example with pain in stages of cancer. The goal is to provide evidence of value not only for New York but for the country, he said.

The Cuomo administration has proposed a limited initiative to authorize medical marijuana use by patients at 20 hospitals. Shah said Monday many hospitals have shown interest and it will use marijuana provided by the federal government.

"Using federal sources for product, we can get it up and running within a year," Shah said.

Some legislators questioned the need for further study, noting that nearly half the states and many countries have studied and now allow its use.

"There are patients suffering right now in New York," said Sen. Diane Savino. Some are moving to other states like Colorado, New Mexico and Washington where they can get it, she said.

Shah replied that health department is establishing the trial within the limits of current law. Several meetings are scheduled over the next few months on implementing it.

"There's a lot of interest in this program," Shah said. He noted that with the ongoing development of other drugs, ophthalmologists told him marijuana is no longer a preferred treatment for glaucoma.

Savino said it should be left to practitioners and patients to choose treatments. "We don't need to take tools out of their toolbox," she said.

She and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried have introduced legislation to legalize possession, purchase and use of medical marijuana by a certified patient or caregiver.

In a sponsor's memo, Gottfried cited the 1999 report by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine that "nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety all can be mitigated by marijuana," found to be an effective treatment where other medications failed for at least some patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.

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