new york medical marijuana
Medical Marijuana Policy

New York Officials Pursue One Of America’s Most Unworkable Medical Marijuana Programs

new york medical marijuanaLast night the New York State Department of Health (DOH) released the final regulations for New York’s medical marijuana program. The announcement followed a period of public comment in which patients, families, experts, and industry professionals submitted more than a thousand letters and emails critiquing the proposed regulations for being too restrictive and unworkable. In response to this incredible level of input from the public and private industry, the Department of Health made absolutely no substantive changes to the regulations. Instead, they made only handful of technical fixes, such as correcting typos.

Twenty-two other states have passed medical marijuana laws, five jurisdictions have passed laws taxing and regulating marijuana for adult use, and the federal government has made clear that they will not interfere with properly administered state marijuana programs. Despite this, the Cuomo Administration, in its response to the public comments, repeatedly uses federal laws as an excuse for inaction.

Last June, the New York State legislature passed a medical marijuana law after years of advocacy by patients and families across the state. In the final days of the 2014 legislative session, the Cuomo Administration demanded a series of amendments to the bill, severely limiting its scope and creating one of the country’s narrowest medical marijuana programs. The law that was passed, while narrow, gave the Health Commissioner the authority to make the program more expansive. Unfortunately, the final regulations make clear that the Commissioner will not use his authority to expand the program and that the Cuomo Administration intends to make the program as restrictive as possible – even if that makes the program unworkable and leaves patients to suffer.

For example, although advocates had asked for a clear and transparent process for how conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), will be considered for the program, the final regulations make no mention of covering any additional illnesses, only saying that the Commissioner may issue guidance on this in the future.

“As a veteran, I am dismayed that the final regulations fail to include PTSD, which so many of my fellow soldiers suffer from on a daily basis,” said Bill Gilson President of the New York City chapter of Veterans for Peace. “PTSD is covered in a least nine other states with medical marijuana laws, and given the strong scientific evidence that cannabis can help those with PTSD, people suffering from it New York should also have access. I find it even more upsetting that there is still no transparency or explanation for how PTSD — or any other medical condition for that matter — will be added or excluded from the program in the future.”

For months, advocates have also been raising concerns that low income patients may not be able to access medicine because the cost will be prohibitive. DOH is requiring dispensaries to sell more expensive extracts and concentrates (versus whole plant); has prohibited modes of ingestion, thus, requiring the use of costly vaporizers; and has limited delivery options putting the burden of transportation on sick patients. Each of these factors increases the cost and could leave the poorest and most disabled patients to suffer most. In their public comments, advocates outlined several options by which DOH could provide access for low income patients. The final regulations completely ignore these suggestions. DOH says it may allow dispensaries to give away medicine to those in need, leaving the fate of low income patients to depend entirely on the good will industry.

“Having fought hard for the establishment of the medical marijuana program to serve thousands of sick and disabled New Yorkers – including myself – who are in desperate need of safe and legal access, I’m gravely concerned that the State is setting up a two-tier system where low-income and poor people of color are cut out,”said Robert Tolbert, an 18 year survivor of HIV and board member of VOCAL-NY. “We suggested a number of ways the state could meet the needs of low income New Yorkers, and they chose to ignore them all. This is disgraceful.”

Despite strenuous opposition form advocates and industry alike, the final regulations also prohibit the sale of whole plant matter and limit each producer to manufacturing five strains, even though there are dozens of therapeutic strains for treating a variety of different symptoms and conditions.

“I’m dismayed that DOH chose to restrict access to the whole plant,” said Donna Romano of Syracuse. “Many patients, like me, want the benefits of the natural, whole plant. Important compounds, like terpenoids, can be lost during the extraction process. And doctors and their patients need to be able to try different strains to figure out which ones are most therapeutic for a given condition. There is no sound rationale for limiting access to the whole plant and restricting the number of strains to five.”

Advocates are also concerned that there simply won’t be enough supply to meet demand, especially in rural regions of the state.

“With only five producers and twenty dispensaries for a state with 54,000 square miles and a population of almost 20 million, many patients are going to have a hard time getting the medicine they need,” said Jumanne McDaniel from Long Island, who is living with disability associated with spinal injury. “Many of the patients who will qualify for medical marijuana in New York are gravely ill or severely disabled. They should not have to drive hundreds of miles to get the medicine they need.”

As concerning as the particular provisions that will leave patients to suffer needlessly is the Administration’s disregard for the input of the public and experts in the field.

“Substantive concerns were provided by hundreds of people who are in need of accessing medical marijuana,” said Janet Weinberg, a cancer survivor and leader in Compassionate Care NY, a statewide coalition of patients, families and providers. “They expressed that need, and the Administration did not make any changes. The regulations do not provide consistency in utilizing a medical model.  Rather it seems they selected the most restrictive provisions they could rather than working to create maximal access for patients in need.”

Ironically, all of the state’s efforts to prevent diversion will likely have the opposite of the intended effect. Because they will not have access to the medicine they need, patients will be forced to continue purchasing marijuana on the illicit market – subjecting themselves to criminal penalties – or to simply continue suffering. Advocates noted that by releasing the final regulations at the same time as the state budget was being completed, the restrictive, unworkable regulations would get buried in the budget new cycle.

“It’s baffling and downright unacceptable for Governor Cuomo to ignore both the science on medical marijuana and the evidence on medical marijuana programs,” said gabriel sayegh, managing director of policy and campaigns for the Drug Policy Alliance.  ”Since Cuomo is abandoning patients and families in need in pursuit of a war on drugs approach, we have no choice but to return to the legislature to fix New York’s medical marijuana program.”

Source: Drug Policy Alliancemake a donation

  • Nathaniel

    The truth is there is going to continue to be a ton of process put forth by those who wish to keep it illegal as long as they can. There is nothing amazing here. In 1996 California voted for the most functional of all the medicinal laws put on the books to date: The entire country should have followed their example, but the corrupt and greedy of the nation took a step forward and showed their true colors in the spotlight of the media.
    State by state we are getting to see who has the most corrupt officials in the nation by how they treat their medical marijuana programs implementations and how they create their respective regulations.

    • Johnny Bloomington

      “In 1996 California voted for the most functional of all the medicinal laws put on the books to date”

      You’re joking right? Colorado’s medicinal laws are way better and because of this the feds didn’t harass Colorado as bad as California with their loose med laws.

      • Nathaniel

        It is night and day between the two. California recognized the inordinate number of ailments that could be alleviated or remedied with marijuana and thus allowed those to be qualifying conditions. More conditions with far less restrictions is what should be on the books, not the other way around.
        To be fair I am partial to the Ca. bill because I was living there educating my right wing family about the benefits. I have a soft spot for it knowing that I changed at least 10 votes that would have gone against it. In the grand scheme it does not seem like much, but when I was 20 it made me believe in the power of persuasion when logic is applied.

        • Johnny Bloomington

          I like less restrictions as well but that doesn’t make it a good law. I’m speaking in terms of the federal government cracking down on dispensaries and all the lawsuits between local city governments due to lack of well written laws. Colorado didn’t have as many problems cuz it is better regulated.

          • Nathaniel

            Being more compliant allots for less federal interference, thus falling under what they consider acceptable.

            The fact is the feds cracked down less on Co. medical law because it was less free than was Ca.’s law. Freedom is key here, because if a substance shows relief of many symptoms it should be allowed on the medicinal market post haste.
            Marijuana reduces, or completely removes, certain symptoms that many of us are afflicted with. Why then should Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Aspirin, and Naproxin Sodium be legal [even though they are far more harmful to the body than is marijuana] when Marijuana is illegal?
            The science is obvious and available for reading to the general public: most man made drugs are dangerous while marijuana offers incredible benefit to a multitude of human body systems, with near zero side effects.
            I am an atheist, but Marijuana is near the perfect drug in every respect. Financially [in terms of the cost to benefit ratio], green [cheaper and much safer to grow than the soy bean {USDA investigated} with hempcrete actually carbon capturing making the world less CO2 ridden], and works with our natural being [there are endo – {meaning beneath and in this case meaning beneath the skin {thanks greeks!!!} cannabinoids running throughout the body making it work more efficiently on multiple levels]. Did the gods/goddess/whatever make buds? I have no fucking clue, but….”All the plants and herbs for us to use {not abuse}”.

            What I do know is Ca. got it right, the feds did not like their decision, thus the harassment.

  • newageblues

    Cuomo is continuing to be a real pig about marijuana. He learned it from his father. I see that those two little children dying before he let them have CBD cannabis didn’t sober him up at all. Alcohol is so much more dangerous than recreational cannabis (let alone medicinal) that there is utterly no comparison. Stupid fascist sadist POS bigot. Corrupt too.

    • Jordan Shorette

      oh im sure his 1000 thread count sheets that we paid for help him sleep through the night just fine though. Cuomo is a moron to the highest level.

  • Jordan Shorette

    Im a tax paying resident of NYS and this is ridiculous. the people have told our lawmakers time and time again this will not work its too strict and they don’t give a shit. as a resident of NY I feel very let down and cheated by these private agenda pushing monsters who wouldn’t know compassion unless it payed them. we had the power to put these idiots in office so we should have the power to remove them when they make stupid decisions like this. fire them all (minus one or two) and hire real New Yorkers for the jobs regardless of race legacy or money. The common citizen should be making these decisions not the rich elite.

  • ĐΣFΣCŦΣĐ

    I truly hate pussy footing this issue. Call me cynical, but growing sick of medical (Government is toying with it). Just end Prohibition and tax it. Continued support from voters each day, are done with this 1930s mentality and want to move on. instead of a little room to free Cannabis, lets just free it now by uniting this summer for the end of Prohibition. Government is and will take its sweet ass time, along with every other politician in this nation. Don’t get me wrong. I support medical, but growing sick of the games. People are dying everyday from Government funded pills. US government is killing Americans and they refuse to give safe medicine. Enough is Enough!

  • guest`

    Cuomo is a horror. He’s giving tax breaks for yachts, and simultaneously cutting the budget of programs that help the poor. He’s trying to privatize education. and the marijuana thing. I want to leave NY.

    • shmuelman

      People who know Cuomo weren’t surprised by this symbolic, in name only legalization of medical cannabis. NY leads the nation in cannabis arrests and had the most draconian drug laws in the country for decades.

  • Everyonelovesgoodporn

    That scumbag bent over for the sheriffs union last minute.Im glad I’m leaving Ny,Albany is a cesspool of corruption and the people have zero say or affect on any decision our government makes.