New York: Third Republican State Senator Now Co-Sponsors Medical Marijuana Bill

NewYorkStateSenatorGeorgeMaziarz(GOP)

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In a another strong sign of growing GOP support for medical marijuana, new York State Senate Vice President Pro Tempore George Maziarz (R-Lockport) has signed on as co-sponsor of the Compassionate Care Act ( S.4406-B (Savino)), which would allow eligible patients with serious and debilitating conditions to access medical marijuana under the supervision of their healthcare provider.

In February, Maziarz became one of the first Senate Republicans to publicly announce his support for the Compassionate Care Act along with Senators Grisanti and Robach. Since then then, they’ve been joined by O’Mara, Bonacic and Larkin, who also announced their support. Maziarz, the third-highest ranking member of the Senate Republicans, joins Sen. Robach and Grisanti as Republican a co-sponsor.

Patients, healthcare providers and advocates with the statewide Compassionate Care NY coalition praised Sen. Maziarz and called on Senate leadership to finally allow a vote on the measure.

“I want to thank Senator Maziarz for signing on as a co-sponsor to the Compassionate Care Act,” said Wendy Conte of Orchard Park, whose daughter, Anna, suffers from a severe seizure disorder. “This bill has strong bipartisan support, and Senator Maziarz has recognized that seriously ill patients across New York need this legislation now.

"Every day the Senate delays acting is another day that my daughter faces a life threatening seizure," Conte said. "Just last night, she had three severe seizures, and we had to call the paramedics. She made it this time, but we can’t keep waiting. It’s time for Senate leadership to bring the bill to a vote now.”

The development with Maziarz follows a series of historic votes last week in the U.S. House of Representaives related to cannabis laws in the U.S. The House approved a Republican-sponsored, bipartisan supported measure prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from undermining state medical marijuana laws; the amendment passed with 219 yes votes.

The vote is the strongest signal yet that the failed War On Drugs is finally under intense scrutiny in Congress. Public support for medical marijuana is strong nationally, and more than 80 percent of New York voters –- Republicans and Democrats alike –- support medical marijuana, according to recent Quinnipiac polls.

"By signing on as the co-sponsor to the Compassionate Care Act, Senator Maziarz has shown that he is a true leader, one who puts the needs of patients over politics," said Holly Anderson, executive director of Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester. "Compassion is bipartisan.

"It’s time for Senate leadership to allow this bill to come up for a vote," Anderson said. "Patients with serious illness or debilitating conditions in New York have suffered long enough."

Republican support for the Compassioante Care Act has steadily grown over the last five months. Just two weeks ago, Sen. Bill Larkin (R, C – New Windsor) voted in favor of the measure in the Senate Health Committee, and earlier this month, Senator John Bonacic (R, C I – New Delhi) announced his support for the Compassionate Care Act just days after Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy published an op-ed in the Albany Times Union supporting the measure.

After passing the Senate Health Committee, the bill now sits in the Senate Finance Committee. The Committee Chairman, Sen. John DeFrancisco, told the Syracuse Post Standard that he would allow a vote on the Compassionate Care Act if he gets the O.K. from Senate leadership.

“Thank you, Sen. Maziarz, for joining onto the Compassionate Care Act,” said Susan Rusinko, an MS patient from Auburn, NY. “Nearly two dozen other states have medical marijuana laws; patients like me and thousands of others in New York shouldn’t have to wait any longer for relief.

"I ask Senators DeFrancisco, Klein and Skelos to show some compassion, join Sen. Maziarz and pass the Compassionate Care Act," Rusinko said. "Patients like me shouldn’t face criminal charges simply for trying to relieve our pain and suffering.”

Senate leadership is the last obstacle to passing the Compassionate Care Act and providing desperately needed relief for patients in New York. Last week, the New York State Assembly passed a version of the Compassionate Care Act for the fifth time in seven years, with bi-partisan support.

“Senator Maziarz has shown leadership and compassion by becoming a co-sponsor of the Compassionate Care Act,” said Christine Emerson of Rochester. “My daughter, Julia, who has a severe form of epilepsy, is just one of the thousands of New Yorkers who could benefit from medical marijuana.

"It’s time to stop making New York families choose between suffering needlessly, becoming criminals, or relocating to one of the 22 states with legal access to medical marijuana," Emerson said. "Senate leadership should take a lesson from Senator Maziarz and allow vote of this bill. It’s time they stood on the side of compassion."

While some senators continue to stall, patients in New York continue to suffer. Over 600 physicians have signed on in support of the Compassionate Care Act, urging the Albany to act.

“Gold standard clinical trials continue to show that inhaled marijuana in organic, whole plant botanical form is very therapeutic, and for some conditions such as HIV neuropathy, the treatment with the strongest evidence for efficacy,” said Sunil Aggarwal, MD, PhD and Co-chair of NY Physicians for Compassionate Care. "Ironically, restricting medical cannabis to only concentrated oil forms would restrict options to only increased potency forms, making it hard for some patients who would not tolerate them.

"The National Institute of Health recently announced a name change for their complementary and alternative medicine center, including the term Integrative Health," Dr. Aggarwal said. "As such, we should keep all options for whole plant medicine available as integrative medicine calls for.

"As with all other medications, doctors, not politicians, should be deciding which form of the medicine is best suited for a particular patient," Aggarwal said. "That’s why the Senate should pass the Compassionate Care Act.”

“We’re grateful for Senator Maziarz’s support of the Compassionate Care Act,” said gabriel sayegh, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “This legislation is supported by Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, and the overwhelming majority of New York voters and anyone else who cares about compassion and justice for patients.

"Clearly, this isn’t a partisan issue – it’s about people, about relieving suffering," sayegh said. "Now it’s time for the Senate to stop delaying and pass the Compassionate Care Act."

Photo of Sen. George Maziarz: Wn.com