The Good and Bad of New York’s Medical Marijuana Program

Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana is expected to go on sale in New York this week, but do not expect access to cannabis in the state to be easy. The rollout in the Empire State will be one of the most restrictive, tightly regulated medical cannabis programs in the U.S. , which is good and bad news for patients who have been looking forward to the introduction since legislation was passed in 2014. The program, with sales reportedly beginning Jan. 7, has very limited access, but it does features the nation’s first certified kosher pot.

People who are eligible to purchase medical marijuana need to get a prescription from their doctor, apply for an identification card and then obtain their cannabis at a state-regulated dispensary. Unfortunately, doing so will not be easy.

First, the number of doctors who can prescribe medical marijuana may be limited. The details for them to participate were just finalized in late October. To be able to approve access to pot for patients, the physicians are required to register with the state Department of Health and complete a $249 online training course. Cannabis Now reported that a poll of 500 doctors this summer only found one planning to participate because of concerns about the conflicting legal status between federal and state laws about pot’s legality.

The NY law allows patients with a qualifying “specific severe, debilitating or life-threatening condition” can get permission from their physician to obtain medical marijuana. However, the state is only legalizing medicinal pot in non-smokable forms (oil, liquid and capsules). The list of 10 approved ailments includes cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, HIV or AIDS, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, spinal cord injury with spasticity, neuropathy and Huntington’s disease.

Once the doctor has provided a certificate, a patient then needs to apply online and pay a $50 application fee. (There is reportedly a means for someone to claim a financial hardship.) This part of the process just began late last month.

After striving to obtain the paperwork and permission, the next hurdle is finding a dispensary. Only five companies were approved to produce and sell the medical marijuana in NY. Additionally, the dispensaries will be severely limited with 20 spread throughout a state with more than 20 million people. Only four will be available initially for the entire New York City area (two in Manhattan, one in Queens, one in the Bronx and none in Brooklyn or Staten Island).

The Queens location is the one that will dispense kosher pot, officially certified by the Orthodox Union (OU) and their rabbinic inspectors. OU certifies approximately 70 percent of kosher foods in the U.S. for major companies like Kraft/Nabisco, General Mills and Coca-Cola.

NY lawmakers passed the Compassionate Care Act that established the state’s medical marijuana program in 2014. It then took the state’s health officials 18 months to establish the rules, process and training, as well as select which companies will be able to produce and dispense the cannabis. They clearly did not want to follow precedents set in 22 other states that have medical marijuana programs. The bad news for proponents and those with eligible illnesses is how long implementation took and how limited it is, but the good news is that New York’s medical marijuana program could finally start benefiting patients this week.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

CBS New York: Medical Marijuana Facilities Could Open In NYC This Week
Cannabis Now: NY Patients Can Now Register for Medical Marijuana Program, But Good Luck Finding A Recommendation
Newsweek: New York State Will Soon Have Medical Marijuana That’s Certified Kosher
New York Business Journal: New York’s medical marijuana participants scramble for the big day
New York Daily News: New York’s medical marijuana participants scramble for the big day

Photo courtesy of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service

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