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ALBANY – Roswell Park Cancer Institute and The University of Rochester Medical Center are among the New York hospitals that have expressed early interest in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to legalize medical marijuana on a trial basis.

So far, 10 hospitals or medical networks across New York have been in contact with the state about the program, a spokesman for the state Department of Health said Thursday.

  • New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation
  • North Shore-LIJ Health System
  • University of Rochester Medical Center
  • Mount Sinai Hospital
  • Stony Brook University Hospital
  • Montefiore Health Network
  • Roswell Park Cancer Institute
  • Albany Medical Center
  • Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital Medical Center
  • White Plains Hospital

Roswell Park issued this statement Thursday evening:

"We have had some preliminary discussions with officials from the state Department of Health regarding a possible program to assess the effectiveness of marijuana in addressing symptoms associated with cancer and other diseases. We're eager to learn more about the plans for implementing a medical-marijuana pilot program in New York, and have reiterated the importance of incorporating clinical study into any such program."

Leslie White, a spokeswoman for URMC, said the hospital is "interested in being a part of any pilot program using medical marijuana."

"Frankly, URMC should be involved in any clinical trials into its efficacy because we have a large team of scientists who have, for decades, studied ways to manage nausea from chemotherapy," White said.

Of 10 hospitals identified by the state, five are based in New York City or Long Island, including the Montefiore Health Network, which operates 20 primary care sites in the Bronx and Westchester County along with its main hospital in Manhattan. Along with the medical centers in White Plains and Rochester, others that have expressed interest are Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo and hospitals in Albany and Clinton County.

Cuomo last week announced he will unilaterally approve a pilot program that will allow as many as 20 hospitals to distribute marijuana to patients with diseases like cancer or glaucoma and who are in a "life-threatening or sense-threatening situation."

The program would be legal under a 1980 law that allows the Department of Health to create rules for administering controlled substances to patients for research purposes. But major questions remain, including where the hospitals would obtain the marijuana and how the program would coincide with federal law prohibiting the drug.

Michael Palumbo, White Plains Hospital's executive vice president and medical director, said the hospital is looking for more information about Cuomo's plan before committing.

"We are always in favor of safe and effective treatment options that can alleviate pain and suffering for patients," Palumbo said in a statement. "At this point, we have expressed interest in learning more about the Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Program, but have not made any commitment to participate. The next step would be to assess the program once we learn more details."

Cuomo's plan has been met with skepticism from both medical marijuana boosters and conservatives. Supporters of a bill to more broadly legalize pot for medical purposes say the law Cuomo is using to implement the plan is too restrictive and difficult to administer, which is why it hasn't been used since the 1980s.

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, and Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, would set up a growing and distribution network for patients. The source of the drug for Cuomo's plan is unclear, though one option raised by officials is distributing marijuana confiscated by police.

In a news conference this week, Savino said New York needs a "comprehensive, robust law in New York state that provides a strong regulatory model."

"The governor has put forward a proposal that acknowledges that medical marijuana has a valid use for patients who are suffering in New York state," Savino said. "Now what he needs to hear from patients is what he's put forward won't address all of them."

Steven Safyer, Montefiore's president and CEO, said the medical network is obligated to consider "all safe and effective therapeutic options to cure illness or relieve symptoms."

"In that spirit, we want to further explore New York's Controlled Substance Therapeutic Program for medical marijuana and look forward to further discussions with the state Health Department," Safyer said in a statement.

JCAMPBELL1@gannett.com

Twitter.com/JonCampbellGAN

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