Cuomo Updates Criminal Justice Issues

Judge's Widow Grateful for Marijuana Plan

, New York Law Journal

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivering his fourth annual State of the State address
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivering his fourth annual State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany Wednesday.

ALBANY - For the widow of Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State announcement Wednesday that New York will permit limited use of medical marijuana was a bittersweet moment: "sweet" because Reichbach would have strongly approved; "bitter" because he isn't here to see it.

"I can't stop thinking about how Gus would react to this moment," said Ellen Meyers, who lost Reichbach to pancreatic cancer in July 2012, when he was 65. "I think he would be absolutely ecstatic that the governor is behind it. This was something really important to him."

Reichbach's "last public act," according to Meyers, was a May 16, 2012 op-ed column in The New York Times in which he publicly revealed his use of marijuana to counter the devastating effects of chemotherapy and argued for its legalization for medicinal purposes. At the time, key lawmakers said Reichbach's self-exposé gave considerable credibility to the issue of medical marijuana and greatly advanced a cause (NYLJ, May 21, 2012) that had long been on the legislative fringes.

But it never got off the ground, with the Assembly passing one-house bills, the Senate ignoring the matter and the governor sitting on the sidelines without expressing an opinion.

That changed Wednesday, when Cuomo delivered his fourth State of the State address, revealing that the administration will tap existing statutory authority to allow as many as 20 hospitals to prescribe marijuana to patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma and other disorders as approved by the health commissioner.

The administration will use The Antonio G. Olivieri Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Program (Public Health Law Art. 33-A), to launch a pilot program that will provide medical marijuana for qualified patients. Cuomo said the program will allow participants to seek relief while providing empirical data to inform future policy.

Meyers said her husband remained engaged on the issue until his final days.

"He was a man who was engaged in issues his whole life and took courageous stands on lots of different issues," she recalled. "This was his final one. What a terrific part of his legacy."

Reichbach found marijuana helped him overcome nausea and sleeplessness, and to recover part of his appetite, Meyers said. For a good year after her husband died, Meyers said she was still hearing from readers who had been moved by his op-ed, "A Judge's Plea for Pot."

"The piece had a profound impact on people, especially since it was written at the end of his life when he could have withdrawn," she said. "But he felt it was important enough to make a stand. I read the piece when he drafted it and when he edited it, but when I saw it in print, I cried. He was really able to communicate what it was like, both the sickness and the treatment, in a way that people understood."

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