Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday sent a letter to acting New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker asking him to consider expediting the medical marijuana legalization specifically for epileptic children in New York.
Cuomo’s letter comes after two children, nine-year-old Anna Conte and three-year-old Olivia Marie Newton, died this month. In June, state legislators passed the Compassionate Care Act, legalizing marijuana for patients with conditions including epilepsy, but legalization will not be implemented in the state for at least 18 months.
In the letter, Cuomo writes: “Striking the right balance to ensure public safety and public health are protected is crucial. 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 dire population.”
Nine-year-old Anna Conte of Orchard Park, New York was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome when she was 10 months old. Because of her condition she suffered from debilitating seizures.
Conte tried and failed “well over 14 anti-epileptic medications,” before her mother Wendy saw a CNN documentary in August reporting on the potentially life-saving impact of cannabidiol — an extract of marijuana — for individuals who experience seizures. Wendy Conte became an outspoken advocate for medical marijuana legalization in New York last summer, and at the same time gained residency in Colorado, where she planned to move this fall.
“Her plants would have been ready in October for me to move out there and try the high cannabidiol oil. The success rate for these children is 85 to 90 percent seizure reduction, as well as improved cognition–you can’t find that in any anti-seizure medication whatsoever. These children are thriving,” Conte says. “The chances are absolutely, 100 percent, Anna would have benefited from this.”
Anna Conte passed away on July 17; she fell into a coma after a seizure.
Anna Conte was mentioned by name in Cuomo’s letter, a fact that came as a surprise to her mother. Cuomo, she says, refused to meet with Wendy and Anna on multiple occasions. “We have gone repeatedly up to Albany — countless times with many different advocates and parents of children with seizure disorders — and we were refused a meeting with the governor every single time,” she says.
She believes the governor could, and should, go further than he did on Tuesday. “He suggested to the Department of Health to expedite this–he does not need to suggest anything. He can demand that the Department of Health take action immediately. He can demand something to be done starting today,” Conte says.
“It is a first step, but until something is implemented it really means nothing to me.”
Read the letter [