Following guidelines already in place at the New York Department of Health, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill last month formally adding “acute pain management” to its list of conditions for which medical cannabis can be prescribed. This change is important since it allows doctors to offer cannabis as an alternative to opioids for acute pain, not just chronic pain, which was previously added to the list. Substance use disorder sufferers also would be permitted under the bill to obtain medical cannabis to manage their pain, again with the hope of avoiding the use of opioids.

We need not recite the well-documented human destruction that has been caused by the US opioid epidemic. Not limited to those with addictive tendencies, many are innocently prescribed these drugs following surgeries or with other acute pain and become hooked. Now NY doctors will have a state legal alternative in these situations. And while there are no clear statistics yet, a study published by JAMA in April of this year concludes, “[L]iberalized prescribing of marijuana may result in decreased use of opioids, and hence, fewer subsequent opioid-related overdose events.” In this population-based, cross-sectional study using Medicaid prescription data for 2011 to 2016, medical marijuana laws and adult-use marijuana laws were associated with lower opioid prescribing rates.

As we know, Gov. Cuomo in the last year or so has gone from considering cannabis a gateway drug to appearing to support adult use legislation, which is currently being drafted by a task force he commissioned. If he wins reelection in November, which is widely expected, many believe he will support such legislation if passed. His Republican opponent, Marc Molinaro, previously supported adult use legalization but recently has been stopping short, agreeing with the availability of medical cannabis and decriminalization to avoid cannabis users facing jail time.