ALBANY, N.Y. -- The New York State Assembly has passed two bills designed to improve access to patients wanting medical marijuana.
The first measure, sponsored by Buffalo Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-141st District), would require the state's Department of Health make public the list of doctors who are registered in the program. The bill passed in the full Assembly 133 to 0.
As of May 24, only 583 physicians statewide are able to sign off on a patient's paperwork so they can legally receive medical cannabis. Critics say that's why only about 4,000 New Yorkers have been certified.
"The State Health Department is supposed to provide good health for people who live in New York State," Peoples-Stokes said. "They're not doing that by keeping this list secret."
Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, chairman of the Health Committee, wrote the Compassionate Care Act, which legalized medical marijuana. He said the legislative intent all along was for that list to be public.
"People have a right to know this," Gottfried said.
Despite that, the Health Department denied 2 On Your Side's Freedom of Information Law request and our appeal. The state argued releasing the names of the doctors could put their lives in danger.
"I think it's illegal that that list is now being kept secret," Gottfried added. "The Health Department disagrees with me, so the bill would make it crystal clear that that list is public information."
It passed with bi-partisan support in an Assembly vote of 100 yea and 30 nay.
Gottfried said allowing other practitioners to certify patients would great expand the program to thousands more patients.
"Access for patients is really very severely limited, and the program has barely gotten off the ground," he concluded.
Both of the Assembly bills now go to the State Senate. Their first stop is in the Senate Health Committee, chaired by Senator Kemp Hannon. 2 On Your Side left several messages with his office Thursday. None was returned.
Lawmakers go into summer recess in 3 weeks, and the State Senate is actually in session only 9 more days. It's unclear if the Senate will act on the two medical marijuana bills in time. If passed in the Senate, the bills would go to the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has not indicated whether or not he would sign these bills into law.