New York Expands Medical Marijuana Program (Finally)

(Photo by Nico Escondido)

New York Health officials have agreed to expand the state’s medical-marijuana program by adding “chronic pain” to the state’s list of qualified conditions.

On Thursday, the state Department of Health announced that physicians would soon have the freedom to recommend cannabis medicine to those patients living with this common condition. It is a move that stands to give tens of thousands more patients across the state the ability to use medical marijuana as opposed to prescription opioids.

“After conducting a thorough review of the scientific literature, it became clear that there may be certain benefits in the use of medical marijuana by patients suffering from chronic pain,” NY Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker said in a statement. “Medical marijuana is already helping thousands of patients across New York State, and adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition will help more patients and further strengthen the program.”

The addition of chronic pain to the state’s list of qualified conditions could be one of the most important progressions made to the program since it was launched at the beginning of the year. As it stands, there are just over 10,700 patients participating in the program, which is hardly enough to sustain the entire scope of the state’s cannabis industry.

Fortunately, the Health Department made this realization earlier this year, publishing a report recommending a number of expansions to the state’s medical marijuana program in order to keep it alive. Among those suggestions was giving nurse practitioners and physician assistants the ability to certify patients and the addition of chronic pain—both of which have been made official over the course of the past week.

The only potential downside to the state’s latest announcement is that health officials have yet to determine exactly what types of pain conditions will be cleared for participation. That determination, in the form of a draft for public comment, is expected to be made in the next few days, according to a news release published by the Health Department.

All of the recent amendments to the “Compassionate Care Act,” which are required to undergo a 45-day public comment period, will likely take effect sometime in early 2017.

There were a number of other expansion recommendations made this year, such as increasing the number of cultivation sites and dispensaries permitted to operate throughout the state and a home-delivery service. It is possible these amendments could be announced yet this year.

If all of the proposed changes come to pass, New York’s medical marijuana program will no longer be considered one of the most restrictive in the United States.

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