The White Plains Examiner

State Assembly Members Lobby for Compassionate Care Act

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New York State Assembly members Sandra Galef, David Buchwald, Amy Paulin and Tom Abinanti speak out in favor of the medical use of marijuana for certain diseases.
New York State Assembly members Sandra Galef, David Buchwald, Amy Paulin and Tom Abinanti speak out in favor of the medical use of marijuana for certain diseases.

By Jon Craig

If you support legalizing marijuana for medical uses, call your state senator. That was the message Friday from a dozen hospice patients and local Democratic members of the state Assembly who have passed legislation four times to allow prescription use of pot only to have the bills killed in the Senate.

At a press conference hosted by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Scarsdale at the White Plains offices of Hospice and Palliative Care of Westchester, elected officials were joined by about a dozen patients struggling with serious pain and illness. Some were restricted to wheelchairs, others accompanied their parents.

Assemblywoman Sandra Galef of Ossining said this year Assembly Bill 6357 is probably more likely to pass than it’s ever been. The bill is currently before the Senate Health Committee. The legislation has been amended to make it harder to grow marijuana for illegal sale and use, Galef said. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an order allowing 20 hospitals in the state to move toward legal use of the drug for medical purposes, with related spending in his proposed state budget. “It will be in the budget discussion,” Galef said. “Hopefully they will do the right thing. The benefits to those suffering who have not had success with other forms of pain management seem to me to greatly outweigh the risks, especially if we are diligent about how we administer access in our state. We hope to get it done in the next two weeks and then we can come back and celebrate.”

Assemblyman David Buchwald of White Plains said the consequences of not legalizing marijuana for medical uses are far too great to ignore any longer. “People with debilitating and often terminal illnesses deserve compassion,” Buchwald said.

And Assemblyman Tom Abinanti of Pleasantville said, “Hopefully we’re going to get this resolved very soon.”

At the press conference, Dalila Kessaci of Scarsdale was joined by her 3-year-old daughter, Mellina, who has a serious form of epilepsy that causes infantile spasms. “My daughter has as many as 100 life-threatening seizures a week,” Kessaci said. “My entire family is living a nightmare that won’t end. We fell helpless at her side and terrified for her life. She deserves a better quality of life. She has tried dozens of highly toxic medications that have failed to help. Please do not let my daughter suffer or die from her seizures. Medical cannabis could literally be the thing that saves her life. The Assembly has stepped up. Now it’s time for the Senate to do the same.”

A physician pointed out that cannabis has the ability to quell seizures. It is less toxic than some highly addictive prescribed painkillers, helps bolster immune functions, and is less toxic to the brain and liver than alcohol. And other prescription drugs are now the leading cause of accidental deaths nationwide, she said.

“The medical benefits that can be derived from marijuana are far too great to ignore any longer,” Paulin said. “There are so many people suffering from a variety of diseases where medical marijuana would make a huge difference in their quality of life. We need to pass this legislation to help the thousands of patients that need specific strains of marijuana, such as children with Dravet Syndrome.”

Twenty states currently allow medical marijuana. Every state in the Northeast allows the use of medical marijuana except New York and Pennsylvania. A Quinnipiac poll last month found that 88 percent of New York voters supported the legalization of medical marijuana.

Maryanne Houser of Suffern was joined at Friday’s news conference by her 9-year-old daughter, Amanda, who suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. Amanda suffers at least one seizure a month, has tried eight drugs and is now on three prescribed drugs. Some days she is “catatonic” and can’t go to school, her mother said. And she’s had to be given rectal Valium to avert seizures, “which makes her drunk.”

While Amanda was too small to be seen by reporters and TV cameras from behind the press conference podium Friday, her words rang through loud and clear: “I want to be like the other kids and want to have real food and I want these seizures to stop,” she said.

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