New York's medical marijuana program—AKA the Compassionate Care Act—which was feebly launched at the beginning of the year, not only comes with a chastity belt full of provisions that cater to only the half-dead, but the tight regulations wrapped up in this fiasco have put cannabis products mostly out of reach for the few patients who qualify for participation.
However, Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the lawmaker who was instrumental in the fight to bring medical marijuana to the state of New York, says he will introduce several pieces of legislation in the next coming weeks that he hopes will lead to a broad expansion to the program.
A recent article in the Village Voice indicates that Gottfried plans to submit a bill that will increase the number of cannabis producers permitted to operate across the state from five to somewhere in the vicinity of 10. The proposal would simplify the licensing process, evading a long drawn out approval period, by drawing the next selection of pot companies from the list of applicants that did not make the initial cut in 2015.
All of Gottfried’s efforts to expand the medical marijuana program are individualized dissections of a full package proposal (A07476) that was submitted earlier last year. His plan is to hit the General Assembly with his objectives a piece at a time in hopes that this will allow lawmakers to give selective focus on items of interest, rather than forcing them to get behind a list of demands. Gottfried believes this might be the best way to nail down a few small victories in the realm of medical marijuana expansion because some of the proposed items will be more “acceptable” and easier to swallow, while others will teeter on “controversial.”
One of proposals expected to be put up for consideration this legislative session would finally allow patients the option of smoking marijuana instead of being strictly forced to consume only oils, tinctures and vapors.
The state’s restriction on smoking weed has caused the prices of cannabis products being sold throughout the state to become more expensive than the average monthly medical marijuana bill in states where no consumption restrictions apply. A report from The New York Times indicates that the current regulatory standard is leading to some patients having to shell out in upwards of $1,200 per month—other reports suggest as much as $2,000.
Another bill that is likely to surface this session is one that seeks to include “Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injury, dystonia, wasting syndrome, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus” to the list of qualified conditions. Several of these disorders were rejected last month by NY Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker based on his department’s inability to determine whether marijuana was effective at relieving their respective symptoms.
Although Gottfried may have a long road ahead of him trying to get some of the more conservative forces to get behind his proposed amendments, lawmakers are going to have to give in to some degree or else risk jeopardizing the strength of the program altogether. After a month of operation, there are still less than 400 doctors certified to participate and only about 550 registered patients.
As we’ve learned from states like Illinois and Minnesota, having a medical marijuana program that only services a few hundred or even a few thousand patients puts the businesses responsible for cultivating and distributing these products at risk of financial ruin. New York will need get its program poised to service tens of thousands more patients in the next few years before it has enough backbone to go the distance. And with the state’s lack of interest in the program, it appears that most of this work will need to be done at the State Capitol.
"A lot of the issues with the program are ones that the [health] commissioner can address without legislative change," Julie Netherland with the Drug Policy Alliance told the Village Voice. "We're also eager to work with Gottfried and others in the legislature, given that it seems unlikely that the administration is going to make the improvements that we want to see."
(Image Courtesy of THC Finder)