Missy Miller watched the State Senate debate on June 20 from her Atlantic Beach home for the same reason she has been advocating for medical marijuana: her 14-year-old son Oliver was having severe seizures, and instead of staying in Albany where they had traveled to see the debate in person, they had to return a day earlier.
“I watched the Senate vote, and Senator [Dean] Skelos spoke and said that meeting Oliver and hearing his story changed his mind about medical marijuana,” Miller said. “[It was] a very emotional moment for me.”
Oliver suffered a pre-birth stroke that caused blindness and developmental delays, and he still suffers daily seizures. The medically prescribed oil form of marijuana, which has a low concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — which gives users a high — would substantially decrease the frequency and severity of his seizures, Miller said.
Not long after co-Majority Leader Skelos spoke, the Senate voted in favor of legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana in specific forms, such as oil-based and vapor, to people with any of 10 conditions, including AIDS, cancer, epilepsy, ALS (known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and multiple sclerosis. The bill was passed by the Assembly on May 27. It was the fifth time in the past seven years that the Assembly had approved such legislation.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was reluctant to support the measure unless restrictions were put in place, is expected to sign it into law. When he does, New York will join 22 other states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.
“The legislation meets many of our concerns,” Skelos said on the Senate floor. The Republican from Rockville Centre had previously opposed legalizing marijuana for medical use. “I have become flexible, more compassionate, more understanding of the journeys many are having,” he said. “No way would I have wanted Oliver Miller, from my district, to have hundreds of seizures from a severe stroke. His mom believes if Oliver can get the oil, the seizures will go down to four a day. Hundreds to four — that’s worth voting for.”
Expected to take 18 months to implement, the program does not allow marijuana to be smoked, The governor can suspend it on recommendation by the state police superintendent or health commissioner, and after seven years it automatically expires, but the governor and Legislature can re-establish the program.
Though it is more restrictive than advocates hoped it would be, and Miller acknowledged that she is concerned about the 18-month timetable, she said she is “extremely relieved and proud” to have helped bring about the new law. “I’m sad that many of the advocates that I have been fighting so hard [for] will have a more difficult time getting the delivery mode they need,” she said. “But overall, I’m glad that this is an enormous first step, and hopeful that as it unfolds, it expands to be all it should be.”
Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said he thinks the new law will be beneficial, but he also has concerns. “I’m happy it doesn’t include smoking, but it includes edibles, and in Colorado there has been a rise in emergency-room cases when people take it in brownies and cakes,” Reynolds said. “I worry that the current standards have lowered the perceived risk about using marijuana.” Instead of a state-by-state approach, Reynolds said, he would like to see a national central repository for sharing data on medical marijuana use.
Lawrence School District Superintendent Gary Schall, who paved the way for Oliver Miller to attend school in his home district after being out of the district for several years, said he thinks the new law is a piece of good fortune for the Millers and others. “For a family that lives with challenges greater than most of us will ever know,” Schall said, “having life made a little bit easier, with accessibility to something that helps Oliver with his day-to-day struggles, is nothing short of a blessing.”
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