Although New York’s medical marijuana program is often revered as one of the most restrictive in the nation, one state lawmaker hopes to change that by establishing a new policy that allows patients to “smoke” marijuana.

Earlier last week, Senator Gustavo Rivera introduced a piece of legislation in the conservative halls of the New York General Assembly aimed at giving the state’s medical marijuana patients a less expensive option when it comes to using cannabis medicine. The proposal (S01087), which aims to eliminate the no-smoking provision from the confines of the state’s Compassionate Care Act, would give patients the freedom to use whole plant medicine, in addition to a variety of products.

For the past year, there have been a number of complaints rising up from the cannabis community over how New York’s medical marijuana program is costing families in upwards of thousands of dollars every month to get their hands on the medicine they need. The majority of the problem is due to the law not permitting the state’s 20 licensed dispensaries to sell anything other than edible and topical cannabis products, which are expensive to produce and therefore costly for the consumer.

“Here in New York, you will have to spend, on average, a thousand to two thousand dollars a month to be a medical marijuana patient, if you were to buy it from the dispensary,” said Sarah Stenuf, a veteran with the U.S. Army who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Afghanistan, in an interview with Cannabis Public Media.

In November, New York health officials took some action to expand the state’s medical marijuana program by approving more qualified conditions and giving medical professionals other than doctors the ability to certify patients for participation.

A report from the state’s Department of Health, which was published in August, even went as far as to suggest that it might be advantageous to the overall success of the program to give patients more available consumption methods, such as the freedom to smoke marijuana.

However, while a number of reforms were passed and are now on the verge of being put into action, the state has not yet made a move in respect to giving patients permission to use smokeable forms of the herb.

In December, Assemblyman Rivera, who has become one of the leading marijuana advocates in New York politics, applauded the willingness of Governor Cuomo and Health Commissioner Zucker to expand the program, saying he feels “confident that our State will continue to take the appropriate steps to adequately ensure the success of our State’s medical marijuana program as it expands and is redesigned to address developing concerns.”

There is hope that the General Assembly will share in this enthusiasm in the coming months. Otherwise, it is distinctly possible that more patients will simply continue to lean on the black market for affordable medicine.

“They need to help out more people and they need to allow these dispensaries to give out whole plant-based medicine and not just restrict it to the vaporizer and syrup because it’s going to keep people in the black market,” Stenuf said. “Things need to change if they want the program to be successful.”

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