While New York’s medical marijuana law was, at one time, considered among the most restrictive in the nation, state health officials have been working diligently for the past year to give the program more reach.
The state has added more qualified conditions, allowed more companies to grow and sell marijuana, and now it is expanding the kinds of cannabis products that patients will have the ability to buy at their local dispensary.
Earlier this week, the New York Health Department announced a brand spanking new set of regulations that will give patients more of a variety when they go to purchase medical marijuana. The new products, which could be in dispensaries by the end of September, include lotions, ointments, patches, chewable tablets and lozenges.
The original version of the state’s medical marijuana law only gave patients the option of using pills and vaporizers.
The program, which was officially launched in January 2016, does not allow patients to smoke marijuana.
“This is yet another positive step forward for New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program,” state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement. “These regulations will continue to improve the program in several ways, including making new forms of medical marijuana available and improving the dispensing facility experience.”
In addition, the new rules will also partially disable an old regulation that prevented people other than registered medical marijuana patients from entering a store where marijuana is sold.
The updated policy will allow prospective patients to walk into a dispensary to discuss treatment options with professionals. Up to this point, only those people with a state-issued medical marijuana certification were given this kind of access.
Physicians wanting to get in on the medical marijuana scene will also have an easier time, under the new rules. The four-hour training course that doctors have been required to take before they can begin writing medical marijuana recommendations will be reduced to two hours, according to Zucker.
New York’s medical marijuana program has struggled to attract enough patients to keep its original five licensed distributors in the black. It has only been since the addition of qualified conditions, like chronic pain, that the patient registry now shows more than 26,000 participants.
Regardless of the advancements to the program, the cannabis industry is still fighting for survival.
It was just earlier this year that four of the five companies licensed to grow and sell marijuana filed a complaint against the Health Department to keep it from issuing additional licenses. The lawsuit claimed the Health Department’s decision to put on more marijuana businesses would be detrimental to the whole of the program—potentially putting the entire industry at risk of being shut down.
In the end, the state was permitted to move forward and open the program up to five more companies, making “it easier for patients across the state to obtain medical marijuana, improve the affordability of medical marijuana products through the introduction of new competition, and increase the variety of medical marijuana products available to patients,” Zucker said.
But the real question remains: Will the state eventually give patients the freedom to smoke medical marijuana?
There was some hope that a report issued last year by the NY Department of Health, calling for the addition of other consumption methods, rather than just pills and vapors, would eventually lead to a less restrictive policy giving way to smokable forms. But for now, it appears the state is only interested in cannabis products that do not require patients to hold weed to a flame.
The inability to smoke medical marijuana was challenged earlier this year by state senator Gustavo Rivera, who introduced a bill in the General Assembly, aimed at changing the law. But a health committee ultimately squashed this piece of legislation.