New York plans to have its medical marijuana program functioning within a year, according to the state’s top health official.
Health Commissioner Nirav Shah testified as part of a legislative budget hearing on Monday, where he was grilled by lawmakers on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to use a little-known 1980 law to allow a limited number of hospitals to prescribe marijuana to chronically ill patients.
“My goal is to get this up and running as soon as possible, and using federal sources for product, we can get it up and running within a year,” Shah said.
Cuomo’s plan has faced skepticism from lawmakers who have supported legislative action on medical marijuana, including Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, and Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, who have long sponsored a bill that would legalize the drug for medical purposes and create a growing network for distribution.
The 1980 law Cuomo plans to put to use allows the state to allow medical marijuana on a limited basis for research purposes.
Gottfried pressed Shah on the specifics of the state’s research plan, which Shah said will focus on the therapeutic effects of marijuana on patients and not on effective ways to grow or distribute the drug.
“The research is about the effectiveness,” Shah said. “Do patients with certain end-stage cancers benefit? If so, how much? What are the bounds of the kinds of patients that benefit?”
Savino said she’s confident the Federal Drug Administration will not green-light the state’s planned marijuana program. Shah, on the other hand, said the federal government has approved 15 Investigational New Drug applications for medical pot. She questioned why New York needs to research the drug when 21 states have legalized medical marijuana.
“It is inconceivable that the federal government is going to give New York state a waiver to allow hospitals to dispense medical marijuana,” Savino said. “It has not been done in any other state.”
Shah said the Department of Health’s goal is to provide evidence of medical marijuana’s effectiveness, which he said will benefit the whole country.
“Ultimately, our goal is that the evidence that we provide will be of such high value, and done at the statewide level, that it will be enough for the country,” Shah said.
Meanwhile, Shah briefly addressed his ongoing review of hydraulic fracturing early on in his testimony. Shah, who has revealed little about the substance of his work and has offered no recent timeline for its completion, said he is “still in the process of reviewing the science on hydrofracking.”
A decision on whether to allow high-volume fracking in New York awaits Shah’s recommendation.
“I am sure that the science will be reflected in my final recommendation, and the process must be done carefully, deliberately and with objectivity,” Shah said.
Shah’s testimony, which started around 9:30 a.m., is expected to continue for much of the morning. You can watch live at the Assembly’s website.