Hospitals warm to Cuomo’s pot plan

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Dan Goldberg

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Albany Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center are among the ten hospitals that have in the past week indicated a willingness to consider Gov. Andrew Cuomo's medical marijuana program.

“We believe we have an obligation to our patients to consider all safe and effective therapeutic options to cure illness or relieve symptoms,” said Dr. Steven Safyer, president & C.E.O. of Montefiore. “In that spirit, we want to explore further New York’s controlled substance therapeutic program for medical marijuana and look forward to further discussions with the state Health Department.”

Other hospitals that have expressed an interest also include: University of Rochester Hospital, Mount Sinai, Stony Brook, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital and White Plains Hospital.

The list was provided by the state's Department of Health.

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Capital reported last week that Roswell Cancer Center in Buffalo, North Shore LIJ and New York City's Health and Hospitals Corporation also want to learn more.

Having some of the city's largest health systems as well as two renowned cancer centers in upstate New York express an interest provides some validity to Cuomo's pot plan, which has been derided by legislators and advocates as “limited” and “cumbersome.”

“HHC is always interested in pursuing new therapies that could alleviate patients' suffering,” said Ian Michaels, a spokesman. “We will assess the proposed plan when more details are available.”

That's a common caveat because much of the plan is still being formulated. Cuomo wants to use the 1980 Olivieri law to study the effectiveness of a medical marijuana program and has charged the state's Department of Health with implementing the policy. As many as 20 hospitals would be allowed to dispense marijuana.

It isn't clear how the state plans to obtain the drug and it remains uncertain how hospitals would work around federal laws that treat marijuana as a Schedule-I narcotic, the same as heroin.

“Our assumption is all that would be resolved before this pilot program,” said Terence Lynam, spokesman for North Shore LIJ. “Like everybody else we are waiting for more detail about how this is going to roll out. We want to ensure our patients have access to every legal option to manage the symptoms of their illness.”

Advocates continue to lobby for a legislative solution. The Assembly's health committee on Tuesday approved the Compassionate Care Act, which would create a more robust program, but that bill has repeatedly stalled in the Senate. State Sen. Diane Savino said she believes she has the votes to pass the bill provided leadership brings it to the floor. She doesn't think much of Cuomo's plan and does not believe hospitals would ever find a legal loophole large enough to allow them to dispense medical marijuana.

"The mistake (the Cuomo administration) made is that they're looking at medical marijuana through the prism of 1980, not 2014," she said. "If we bring a bill through the Senate and the Assembly, I can't imagine a scenario where the governor would veto it. It wouldn't make any sense."