N.Y. Gov. takes careful step on medical marijuana

State plans to authorize a hospital-based study



NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a political splash by introducing a medical marijuana plan in the State of the State speech, but his cautious approach has been met with skepticism from pot advocates who question whether the proposal is mostly for show.

While nearly two dozen states have OK’d medical marijuana and Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational use, Cuomo is tapping a 1980 state law to allow up to 20 hospitals to dispense the drug to people with certain severe illnesses as a research project.

“I’m absolutely thrilled that he’s actually verbalized the words ‘medical marijuana,’ but he’s just got to go further,” said Susan Rusinko, 52, a who said a hit of pot is a “wonder drug” that relaxes immobilizing leg spasms from her multiple sclerosis. It’s unclear whether she would even qualify for Cuomo’s initiative or whether there would be a participating hospital near her.

The governor’s office has yet to detail how the program would overcome key hurdles, including the lack of a legal, unadulterated supply of marijuana in the state and a federal law that still makes it illegal for doctors to write a prescription.

While advocates are frustrated, Cuomo’s limited embrace of medical marijuana may be both politically astute and scientifically sensitive.

Some medical experts say that while the marijuana plant holds tantalizing possibilities for treating problems ranging from chemotherapy-related nausea to chronic pain, popular enthusiasm for the drug has outpaced a weak body of medical research.

Cuomo’s initiative is styled as a test of whether pot can be effectively used as medicine without being abused.

Under his plan, people with cancer, glaucoma and possibly some other “life-threatening or sense-threatening” conditions could seek to get marijuana through studies based at hospitals yet to be named, with “stringent research protocols and eligibility requirements.”

Carly Tangney-Decker isn’t waiting for answers. She and her husband believe a particular strain of marijuana available through a Colorado dispensary could help their 8-month-old daughter, Mabel, who has a genetic seizure disorder.

While doctors didn’t recommend the marijuana treatment, the mother said, Mabel’s neurologist supported the family’s quest for alternatives to medications that aren’t approved for regular use in infants and could cause permanent vision damage.

“People say that marijuana is a gateway drug,” said Tangney-Decker, of Kingston. “Well, people in my situation consider it an exit drug to take us away from all the other drugs.”

So she and baby Mabel are moving to Colorado this week.