OLEAN - A public hearing on the State Assembly bill has been wrapped up and another is scheduled in the eastern part of the state on allowing legal use of marijuana for medical purposes. Members of the Cattaraugus County Board of Health made their disapproval of the bill known at their meeting last week.
"We reject this bill," said Dr. Kevin Watkins, county public health director, acknowledging pros and cons of the proposed law. "The use of medical marijuana has not been proven by the FDA as viable over other treatments, and there are federal laws in place to prohibit its use."
Approval by the FDA is not likely to come anytime soon, Watkins said. Even though they have been requested to review the uses of marijuana as a legal drug, the agency has said they have too much in the queue to be able to get to it in any near timeframe. Boards in Europe, Canada and Australia have approved the use of cannabis, Watkins said.
"We are among the last on this," he told the members of the board, in reference to research into the medical uses of marijuana.
While Watkins stood firm on the disapproval of the bill, Dr. Gil Witte, a member of the health board, as well as a member of the Olean Medical Group, said that the uses of medical marijuana seem to have some benefit for some patients, but the situation is more in the legal aspect of the legislation.
"It is difficult to write a law that ensures that the use is properly enforced and not abused," he said. "How do you put into law a bill that makes sure it works the right way?"
According to the language of the Assembly bill on the table, a few points make the law a bit more contentious, according to Watkins. For instance, those who would be able to receive a prescription would have to have a severe condition, meaning something that creates a debilitating or life-threatening condition. Included are cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson's, multiple Sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn's Disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia, arthritis, lupus and diabetes.
The law would also create a certification card for those who would receive the drug, according to the language of the bill. Another item Watkins brought up was that the bill would allow smoking of the drug in various places, to include health care facilities.
"There was a time that smoking tobacco was permissible in some sections of hospitals as well," Watkins said.
There is a pay back to counties within the state, should the bill pass. Watkins said $125 per pound of the marijuana manufactured and dispensed in New York state would be collected by the state. Of that amount, 50 percent would be returned to the counties in a revenue format.
In another section of the law, employers, schools and landowners would not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of medicinal marijuana use of certified individuals.
The New York State Assembly has recessed until January, according to County Attorney Tom Brady. The bill will be taken back up once they return. A form of it has also been referred to the state Senate's Health Committee for review.