Cuomo: Accelerate Medical Pot Program for Children with Epilepsy

Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo giving a speech in Huntington. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)

Less than a month after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a limited medical marijuana bill into law, he’s requesting the acting health commissioner to determine whether the process for distributing the drug can be accelerated for children suffering from epilepsy.

Cuomo’s inquiry, detailed in a July 30 letter, comes after two children from Western New York, 9-year-old Anna Conte and 3-year-old Olivia Marie Newton, died after battling the disorder, which causes frequent seizures.

The bill, which the governor signed into law earlier this month, goes into effect in 18 months.

“Striking the right balance to ensure public safety and public health are protected are protected is crucial,” Cuomo wrote to Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “That said, I ask that you review the eighteen month implementation timeline to determine if there is any way to accelerate the process for this specific dire population.”

According to Cuomo, Zucker this week met with advocates to discuss the issue.

“Families with children struggling from epilepsy have fought for years” for the bill’s passage, the governor wrote. “Now that it is finally law, the children struggling with this condition deserve every consideration we can make that could potentially ease their pain and suffering.”

Conte of Orchard Park died July 17, according to a post on her mother’s Facebook page.

“After 9 yrs. (sic) of fighting her little body just had enough,” Wendy Conte wrote. “She is flying with the angels and most important she is seizure free forever.”

Wendy Conte was in the visitors gallery at the state Legislature in June when the state Senate voted in favor of the medical marijuana bill, according to the Buffalo News. Her daughter suffered through hundreds of seizures a day, the paper reported.

Newton, the 3-year-old, also battled “close to 100 seizures a day,” according to a Facebook page in her honor. She was medication-resistant, according to the page, which meant that prescriptions were futile.

On July 14, her family posted a photo of a tiny angel, glowing and seemingly in peace. The photo read: “I’m in the hands of God.”

The law, as written, covers: cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication on intractable spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, Huntington’s Disease, “or as added by the DOH commissioner,” according to the governor’s office.

Patients must receive certification from a licensed practitioner, which then enables them to receive a registry identification card for medical cannabis.

Read Cuomo’s Letter To Acting Health Commissioner Zucker:

Cuomo Medical Marijuana Letter