New York recently launched its ultra-restrictive medical marijuana program for patients suffering from “severe, debilitating, or life-threatening” conditions, but so far there are no signs that state officials are eager to expand the program to service a wider spectrum of patients.
On Monday, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker announced that he would not allow patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, and rheumatoid arthritis to participate in the medical marijuana program because he does not believe there is enough scientific evidence to prove that cannabis can be an effective treatment for these conditions.
In accordance with state law, the New York Health Department was given a year and a half to consider the five proposed qualified conditions and make a determination as to whether patients with these ailments should be given access to medical marijuana. Officials reportedly pulled in a legion of health and science experts to examine several pieces of research pertaining to marijuana as a viable treatment option, but ultimately they concluded that more evidence was needed before they would be willing to move forward.
Incidentally, Dr. Zucker has the power to add any qualified condition he wishes at any time.
"The law or the health commissioner don't tell doctors what diseases are appropriate for any other drug," Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, one of the key sponsors of the Compassionate Care Act, told Politico. "We really should not have an official list for medical marijuana."
As it stands, medical marijuana in New York is only available to those with cancer, HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, intractable spasticity as a result of spinal cord damage, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies and Huntington’s disease. Yet, the state should be embarrassed by just how much of a failure the program is destined to become, simply because officials refuse to set aside the fear that any wrong move might create a liberal system comparable to what is going on in California.
But New York is far from achieving a program of that magnitude.
The New York Times recently reported that only 51 patients were currently registered to participate in the medical marijuana program, mostly because there are only about 150 physicians in the entire state that have been certified to provide their patients with medical marijuana recommendations. Furthermore, the Times indicates that dispensaries located in highly populated New York City have only seen “a trickle of patients” since opening their doors last week, indicating that dispensaries servicing other parts of the state likely aren’t seeing much action.
Although many lawmakers consider the state’s newfound medical marijuana program to be the first step towards the eventual creation of a plan with more comprehensive coverage, state officials need to ease up on the restrictions to ensure the program is able to generate enough revenue to stay alive long enough to see that happen.
Right now, the inability for patients to consume raw cannabis has forced the state’s medical marijuana prices into the realm of the obscene because the five cannabis producers are only permitted to sell tinctures, oils, and vapors. This restriction alone could be enough to force patients back into the black market, as it is expected that some could spend as much as $1,200 a month to buy it legally.
Last year, New York Physicians for Compassionate Care — a group of more than 600 doctors from across the state who support medical marijuana — sent a letter to the state legislature pointing out a number of scientific studies that shows smoking marijuana in not as dangerous as it is perceived. Still, the state has refused to allow this delivery method.
Keith Stroup, the founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, recently told Vice News that changes to New York’s medical marijuana program will take some time because lawmakers are still suspicious that patients are simply searching for a way to get stoned without legal ramifications. Unfortunately, due to the New York’s impact on national policy, Stroup thinks more states will follow in its footsteps when it comes time to create their respective medical marijuana programs – providing patients with no raw cannabis, no edibles, and no fun.