With the start of New York's medical marijuana program still months away, patents and caregivers of children with neurological conditions gathered outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office to demand early access to the drug.
About two dozen people gathered Tuesday morning in Manhattan, a year after the governor signed legislation that authorized medical marijuana in the state. They say more needs to be done now to grant access for those with the greatest need while state regulators finalize the details of the program.
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"We don't want any more patients in New York state wondering what medical marijuana access could do to save their child's life," said Anna Saini with Vocal NY, one of the groups that organized the rally. "We don't want to wait another day wondering when we have the tools now. All we need is for the governor to take action."
Elaine Smith traveled more than 300 miles to join the gathering. Her 9-year-old daughter Emma was diagnosed before her first birthday with intractable epilepsy, a persistent seizure condition.
Smith said Emma has been put on nine different medications, but most had side effects and none has worked as well as marijuana. She took Emma to see a doctor in Colorado and was prescribed medical marijuana, which her mother said helped tame the illness.
"We are here today because my family and families like ours need the governor to grant emergency medical access," she said. "We tried it while we were up there, and it was amazing. ... It stopped her (seizures)."
She said she fears that if Cuomo does not act soon, she will be forced to relocate her family to Colorado.
Dr. Richard Carlton, of Long Island, said he has been treating children who have conditions similar to Emma's but live in New Jersey.
"They are required to see a psychologist and I sign a letter recommending they get the medical cannabis and when they do the seizures stop," he said. "This is lifesaving medication and the governor is dragging his heels on signing this into emergency access."
A spokeswoman for Cuomo did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
New York's medical marijuana program was authorized under a law signed last July. It grants patients with certain diseases the ability to obtain non-smokable versions of the drug.
Federal officials denied New York's request last year to import marijuana from another state to speed up access for critically ill patients.