ALBANY - Veterans groups are pressing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow those with post-traumatic stress disorder to use medical marijuana, urging him to sign a bill that will soon head to his desk.
The state Senate voted late last month to add PTSD to the list of illnesses and ailments eligible for the state's medical-marijuana program, about six weeks after the Assembly voted to do the same.
It remains unclear, however, whether Cuomo will sign the bill that could significantly expand the number of eligible patients in New York's medical-marijuana program, which is among the more restrictive in the nation.
The state Council of Veterans Organizations wrote to the Democratic governor last month, asking him to approve the measure while noting PTSD affects veterans at a higher rate than the general public.
"We support it, because we really like the way (lawmakers) put this bill together," said Robert Becker, executive director of the veterans council. "The only trouble is we don't know if the governor is going to pass it. I think he's looking for more research on how marijuana will affect PTSD."
Nationwide, about 8 percent of the general population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the National Center for PTSD.
The number is higher among veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq or Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: Between 11 and 20 percent in any given year, the center found.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, who were the main sponsors of the state's original medical-marijuana law passed in 2014.
Research surrounding medical marijuana use among PTSD patients remains light, hindered in part by the drug still being illegal at the federal level. But the relatively small amount of studies in the public realm on the topic have shown promise, according to the sponsors' bill memo.
Cuomo's office so far has not tipped its hand.
The state Department of Health, which has the ability to add ailments to the medical-marijuana program on its own, has said it is researching the issue.
As for Cuomo, he has not signaled whether he intends to sign the bill. He will have 10 days excluding Sundays to decide once the Assembly formally sends it to his desk, which has not yet happened.
"The bill remains under review by counsel's office, and the issue remains under review by the Department of Health," Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said Wednesday.
New York's medical-marijuana program first took effect in early 2016 under a series of tight restrictions, including a ban on smokeable forms of the drug and a limited list of 10 illnesses patients had to suffer from to participate in the program at ill.
In March, the Department of Health added chronic pain to the list of ailments, which helped boost the number of patients certified to use medical marijuana from 12,764 in late January to 22,811 late last month.
Patient advocates, however, still say the drug remains difficult and expensive to obtain in New York and have called on the state to do more to make it more widely available.
State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker announced last month the state would allow doctors to become certified in the state's medical-marijuana program and certify patients for it in the same day, a move he said would help streamline the state's process.
"This is another important step in the program’s growth, as we continue to see a major increase in patients since the addition of chronic pain as a qualifying condition," Zucker said in a statement.
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