GMHC Concerned About Changes to Compassionate Care Act

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Tuesday Jun 17, 2014

After high hopes that the Compassionate Care Act would provide access to medical marijuana for people living with HIV, GMHC is now extremely concerned about proposed changes to the Compassionate Care Act.

On Monday, June 16, Governor Cuomo's office released a list of requested changes to the Compassionate Care Act, which provides controlled and regulated access to medical cannabis for New Yorkers with severe and debilitating conditions, including HIV, as prescribed by their physicians.

A growing body of peer-reviewed research confirms that medical cannabis effectively treats symptoms caused by HIV, as well as the side effects of antiretroviral medications. But the Governor's proposed changes would prevent physicians from prescribing medical cannabis to treat those symptoms.

"Doctors should be able to prescribe medical marijuana to help with the side effects of HIV and the antiretroviral medications that treat it," said GMHC COO Janet Weinberg. "These include neuropathy and nerve damage that lead to severe pain and other debilitating conditions. Many antiretrovirals cause nausea, vomiting and an upset stomach. Though less common thanks to these medications, wasting still causes people with AIDS severe loss of muscle mass and increases their risk for opportunistic infections."

At the end of May, the New York State Assembly had passed the Compassionate Care Act by a bipartisan vote of 91 to 34. AIDS Service Organizations such as GMHC applauded the move as a step in the right direction.

This is the fifth time a comprehensive Medical Marijuana bill has been passed by the Assembly, which would enable New Yorkers living with serious and debilitating conditions, including HIV, cancer, multiple scleroses and epilepsy, to use medical marijuana as prescribed by their health care provider.

"I am so proud of the Assembly for passing medical marijuana legislation that does not single out only one category of illness for treatment," said GMHC COO Janet Weinberg at that time. "Instead, the Compassionate Care Act enables New Yorkers facing many serious and debilitating conditions to access the scientifically supported benefits of medical marijuana."

Weinberg, who had praised the Assembly for passing the legislation in May, said that said that she wished it was available when she needed it.

"As a cancer survivor, I also experienced similar side effects while on chemotherapy," said Weinberg. "This is both professional and personal for me. I am extremely concerned that any last-minute changes to the Compassionate Care Act could render it useless to the thousands of New Yorkers who need it most."

The Assembly's May 20 vote coincided with the GMHC Action Center's Annual Albany Lobby Day, which provided the opportunity for people living with HIV/AIDS to meet with state legislators to share their personal stories in support of critical issues affecting them and their families. Twenty-eight Action Center members and GMHC staff met with 24 state legislators about issues critical to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York State.

"I am a cancer survivor," said Marc Antonio Chen, a GMHC Action Center member for 10 years. "After the devastating side effects of chemotherapy, I experienced wasting, nausea, and vomiting. Medical marijuana can relieve these symptoms and side effects and should be available to all cancer patients if their doctors prescribe it."

Long-time Action Center member Cynthia Herring said that her fiancé had been on kidney dialysis for over eight years and suffered from a lot of pain because of nerve damage, noting that, "It hurts me to see him in so much pain and there's nothing the doctors can do to relieve it because so many pain medications are addictive. Medical marijuana would help him."

Jason Cianciotto, GMHC's Director of Public Policy, said that medical cannabis would, "help thousands of New Yorkers afflicted by severe, debilitating and life threatening illnesses such as epilepsy, cancer, MS and HIV/AIDS. Our clients should not be treated like criminals when their doctors determine that this medicine will alleviate their suffering."

The Compassionate Care Act now moves on through additional steps in the legislative process before a vote on the State Senate floor. GMHC urged Governor Cuomo and the legislature to pass and sign the Compassionate Care Act as it is currently written, and thanked advocates for their help.

"We would like to thank sponsors Assemblyman Gottfried and Senator Savino, who have already amended the bill four times this session to address the concerns of the Governor and their colleagues in the legislature," wrote GMHC in a statement. "The Compassionate Care Act has been passed by the Assembly five times and has enough votes to pass in the Senate if brought to a vote."

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Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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