New York Issues Final Rules for Doomed Medical Marijuana Program

Ever since New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put his signature on the Compassionate Care Act last year supporters have been waiting for their biggest fears to come true – the launch of a highly restrictive program that leaves countless patients unable to gain access to effective medicine. Now, the wait is over.

On Wednesday, the New York State Department of Health issued its definitive rules for the state’s medical marijuana program and it appears that none of the concerns expressed over the past several months were even taken into consideration. Earlier this week, The New York Times pointed out the ultra-restrictive nature of the rules outlined in the agency’s meticulous 100-page draft, but concluded that some amendments were likely to occur before they published the final version.

Unfortunately, after receiving hundreds of concerned comments from patients, physicians and lawmakers, no significant changes were made; only corrections to formatting issues, but nothing for the betterment of the program. It remains simply a blueprint to one of the most cut-rate medical marijuana programs in the United States.

“No changes to the proposed regulation were made as a result of these comments,” is the most common line in the health department’s assessment of public comment. Among the concerns includes the fact that the program only allows 10 qualified conditions, as well as a limited number of dispensaries to service the needs of the entire state – posing difficulties for patients with transportation issues. There are also stipulations that will limit the types of edibles and oils that can be cultivated and sold as well as a laundry list of other senseless provisions that will force New Yorkers, young and old, to continue enduring debilitating ailments without the proper treatment.

Although there was hope the health commissioner would pull it together in the end, which the law authorized him to do, most supporters are not surprised by the agency’s decision to maintain the program’s restrictiveness out of what they suggest was needed to “strike the required balance.”

Last year, there was extensive demand on the part of the Cuomo Administration to amend the language of the Compassionate Care Act to purposely set New York’s medical marijuana program up for failure. In the weeks following its passage, key legislative forces, who supported the program, went on record to say that Governor Cuomo never backed medical marijuana and was never compassionate for the hardships of the potentially hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in desperate need of the program.

“He was not interested in medical marijuana,” said State Senator Savino, during a conference hosted last year by the International Cannabis Association. “And, in fact, told me so on more than one occasion… in some colorful ways.”

Governor Cuomo has argued that operating a smaller program is the best method for maintaining control but in doing so, he has allowed the creation of an industry that will get in its own way. He simply refuses to recognize that 22 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and the worries of prejudices he personally has towards cannabis are unfounded. In fact, California, which was the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, has operated one of the most liberal programs for almost the past twenty years and the state has yet to suffer any program-related consequences.

“The administration continues to operate as though medical marijuana programs have never been operated before,” Gabriel Sayegh, managing director for policy and campaigns with the Drug Policy Alliance, told The New York Times. “If we were having this discussion in 1998, one would understand the extreme caution. But it’s not the late 1990s, it’s 2015.”

Nevertheless, the final rules for New York’s medical marijuana are now in place, and despite the three-legged nature of the beast, officials will be expected to have it up and running by early 2016. In the meantime, it is expected that additional legislative measures will likely happen over the course of the next year in an attempt to expand the program, as it should have been done from the beginning.

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