The Expansion of the Medical Marijuana Program in New York
Moving to address complaints about new medical marijuana program New York, the state’s Health Department is making significant changes in access to the drug, including making a home delivery program, very likely to expand by the end of October.
The program, which saw its first dispensaries opened in January, has struggled to gain broad traction in the medical community and with likely patients. Advocates for the medical use of marijuana have said the program, authorized by a 2014 law signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, was too limited, and the regulations too clumsy to accomplish its mandate.
New York opened its first medical cannabis dispensaries in January, joining 22 other states and Washington, DC, with medical marijuana programs. The program, which employs 7,000 certified patients and 20 dispensaries, is a far cry from that in states like California, which has hundreds of pharmacies and more than 750,000 medical marijuana cardholders.
The initial program only allowed doctors prescribe special training cannabis to patients with serious and terminal illnesses such as cancer, HIV and AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. Patients or their caregivers were required to buy to visit the state of the small handful of pharmacies cannabis products, including tinctures and capsules. Unlike all other states with medical marijuana programs, sparing perhaps Minnesota, portions of the law are seen as possible impediments to medical marijuana patients in New York, including prohibitions against smoking the plant.
Under the new measures, the state will allow nurse practitioners to qualify patients for medical use of marijuana and allow home delivery of the drug to patients too ill to visit a clinic. It will also increase financial assistance and consider a proposal to people suffering from chronic pain to get coverage under the revamped program. In the longer term, New York will review additional medical cannabis companies for the production and distribution of the drug. At this time, the number of companies is limited to five.
New York will also expand research into the use of the drug and medical benefits, said the health department. Alphonso David, Cuomo’s lawyer, said the state will carefully assess the need for more pharmacies because it makes other changes – such as allowing nurse practitioners to allow medical marijuana recipients – to ensure the transition is smooth. “We are expanding the program and it is vital that we do this in a thoughtful way,” he said. “We are focused on patient access. We must ensure that there is sufficient demand for increasing supply.”
In contrast to most other states
and even other countries, New York program prohibits smoking marijuana, instead wherein the dispensing of the drug capsules or tinctures and oils which can be evaporated or used with an inhaler, commonly called “vaping.” Physicians must complete an online training prior authorization of the drug. Patients may not know which physicians have agreed to participate, making it difficult to access the program.
When he signed the program into law Cuomo said that New York needed “the right balance” between the treatment of patients and the need to protect public health and safety. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia now have medical marijuana programs. The entry of participants varies considerably from state to state. Michigan has 182,000 registered patients. Rhode Island, which has a population 1/20th of New York, has nearly 12,000.
A study from Columbia University Medical Center researchers this year found that enrollment is highest in the western states with older, less restrictive programs and lower in more recent ‘medicalized’ programs such as those in New York. Minnesota, which has a similar program with New York’s, has enrolled nearly 2,800 patients since its program began a year ago.
Legalize it, don’t criticize it. Simplify it.