Although New York’s medical marijuana program is set to get underway in early 2016, some lawmakers are nervous that there will not be any licensed physicians willing to recommend this medicine to their patients.
Indeed, while the focus of concern, as of late, has been on the state’s restricted licensing provisions, only allowing five companies to cultivate and service potentially hundreds of thousands of patients, the real trouble lies in the fact that New York does not currently have a single doctor registered that can begin discussing with their patients the option of cannabis treatment.
During a recent Manhattan Chamber of Commerce meeting, State Senator Diane Savino, who was instrumental in the passing of the Compassionate Care Act, told area administrators that her biggest concern with regard to the launch of the state’s medical cannabis program is that no physicians have been trained in accordance with the state law.
In New York, physicians must complete a training course outlined by the state Department of Health before they can legally provide guidance to patients pertaining to medical marijuana. However, the problem is, despite a number of companies having outlined training programs that match New York’s requirements, state health officials have not yet started looking into the details of the curriculum or begin accepting proposals.
So far, New York is home to only one doctor in the entire state willing to certify patients for the medical marijuana program. A.F. Medical of Flatbush, which has an office in Brooklyn, says it plans to establish “bona-fide relationships” with patients in order to assist them in their participation in the state’s medicinal cannabis program. However, until those physicians are given the opportunity to take the state-mandated marijuana course, their authority to recommend cannabis is as useless as every other doctor in the state – that is, if there are even others willing to get involved.
Along with the distress that there might not be any physicians registered to certify medical marijuana patients by the time the program is launched in January 2016, there is also a real possibility that the majority of doctors will simply refuse to participate in the program. In a recent phone survey of 500 New York physicians, only one confirmed plans to offer medical marijuana recommendations. The rest said they would not certify patients to use cannabis because they are worried about its legal status in the eyes of the federal government.
Therefore, as long as the majority of New York doctors decline to consult their patients on the use of medical marijuana, the program, which has, in several ways, been doomed from the start, could emerge with a toe tag labeled immense and total failure. Unlike medical marijuana states like California, New York’s law forces patients to establish and maintain a legitimate relationship with a physician before any such recommendation can be made. However, if a large percentage of the doctors disassociate with the program, avoiding it altogether by failing to complete the state’s required marijuana course, patients will be forced to either do without effective medicine or look elsewhere for a willing physician.
Most physicians in New York likely believe that cannabis is has medicinal importance, but many are worried that having a connection to marijuana, a Schedule I controlled substance, may force them to lose government subsidies for Medicaid and Medicare. Others are worried that participating in the medical marijuana program will cause problems with their malpractice insurance.
Unfortunately, the medical industry’s apprehensiveness towards therapeutic marijuana is likely to continue until the federal government gets serious about reforming the nation’s pot laws. Right now, the CARERS Act, a bill aiming to make medical marijuana legal nationwide, is our best chance at creating a system that maintains Congress’ erection for continued prohibition while making law-biding members of the medical marijuana community prosecution proof.