New York State Legislators Propose Bill to Combat Opioid Use with Medical Cannabis

New York State Legislators Propose Bill to Combat Opioid Use with Medical Cannabis

If the bill passes, New York will be the first state to specifically name opioid use as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana access.

by Zach Harris

State lawmakers in New York have introduced a piece of legislation to add "opioid use disorder" as a qualifying condition to the state's limited medical cannabis program.

According to the New York Daily News, state Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell introduced the measure earlier this month, quickly amassing the support of key State Senators and a 23-1 vote in the State Assembly Health Committee last week.

"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," Assemblyman O'Donnell told the Daily News.

While New York legislators have largely stalled in discussions about legalizing weed for recreational use, the state's medical program saw a similar boost in access late last year, when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation adding PTSD to the list of state-approved ailments.

If Assemblyman O'Donnell's bill is passed, New York would become the first state to specifically name opioid use as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis — a treatment method that has seen unprecedented results from a number of peer-reviewed studies.

And with almost complete inaction from the federal government in the face of a national drug epidemic, New York legislators are coming to terms with the reality that significant help from Washington isn't coming anytime soon.

"If we can find a way to help people have productive lives after they've been exposed to the horror of addiction, why would we stand in the way?" State Senator Diane Savino, a supporter of O'Donnell's medical marijuana expansion bill, told the Daily News.

During the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump and his administrators gave a handful of speeches admonishing drug use and pledged to end the opioid crisis. When it's come time to act, though, Trump has repeatedly dropped the ball, focusing on political talking points and superficial declarations instead of a science-based treatment programs and increased funding for health care.

Even with most states and municipalities already pushing their local healthcare and emergency response budgets to their limits, opening up medical cannabis access for opioid users could be both a cheap and effective option to combat widespread addiction.

In a new study submitted at Claremont Mckenna College, graduating senior Steven Dickerson looked at the effect of cannabis legalization on opioid use in Washington State, claiming that legal weed prevented 638 overdose deaths and "lead to over 3,600 individuals seeking treatment." Dickerson's research has not yet been peer-reviewed, but his concluding request for more in-depth research could result in real-life data sets from the Empire State in coming years.

New York legislators will continue their debate of O'Donnell's medical cannabis expansion bill in the current legislative session, but Senator Savino expressed confidence that the measure could be passed and sent to Governor Cuomo's desk by this coming June.

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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.



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