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NY: Proposed Medical Marijuana Upgrades Are Nothing Without Chronic Pain

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NY: Proposed Medical Marijuana Upgrades Are Nothing Without Chronic Pain

As it stands, there are only 2,675 patients in the entire state that have been approved to purchase medical marijuana products from 20 dispensaries.

Ever since New York’s medical marijuana program was launched at the beginning of 2016, a legion of advocates and lawmakers have been discussing ways to infiltrate the General Assembly in an effort to establish a more effective set of rules for what is considered one of the most restrictive programs in the nation. But even though there is a lot of thunder ricocheting across the state over this issue, right now, the likelihood of seeing any vast improvement within the next year is slim to none.

Advocates banded together with Assemblyman Richard Gottfried in Albany earlier this week to twist the arms of legislative gatekeepers in hopes that they will give some serious consideration for a few bills aimed at expanding the state’s embarrassing medical marijuana program. The problem is that the proposed upgrades these cannatroopers are fighting for are simply a collection of baby steps that have very little chance at strengthening the program to the point where patients or the dispensaries that serve them will be able to tell much of a difference.

Although a group of bills introduced in February seeks to inflate the list of qualified conditions to include ailments ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to post-traumatic stress disorder — as well as give nurse practitioners and physicians assistants the authority to provide potential patients with a certification to participate in the program — Gottfried is approaching the current round in the legislative octagon with the attitude that faint progress is better than none. Instead of submitting a single proposal aimed at comprehensive reform, the lawmaker has separated all of his intentions into a few different bills in an effort to prevent a single “controversial” issue from knocking out others that might be more palatable to the majority.

Unfortunately, unless the New York General Assembly is willing to embrace a measure introduced by Senator Diane Savino aimed at giving patients suffering from severe pain conditions the right to participate in the program, none of the other proposed reforms currently on the table are going to be worthwhile – they may not even be enough to keep the program alive.

As it stands, there are only 2,675 patients in the entire state that have been approved to purchase medical marijuana products from 20 dispensaries. To put this in perspective – in Illinois, which has almost double the number of registered patients, dispensaries are complaining that they are at risk of going bankrupt because there are not enough customers coming in on a daily basis for these shops to pay their bills. Some business owners have suggested that a medical marijuana program needs to have at least 30,000 active patients in order for the average dispensary to survive, but without the willingness of the state to expand the reach beyond “serious or life-threatening conditions,” there is no hope of these proportions.

It is for that reason that the most crucial upgrade needed this year in terms of improving New York’s Compassionate Care Act is the one that allows participation from patients with chronic pain conditions. According to a report by the Illinois Department of Public Health, 72 percent of the patients in Arizona use medical marijuana for chronic pain, while these numbers are even higher in Colorado.

But sadly, while there may be some hope for some of the other proposed medical marijuana legislation this year in the General Assembly, the chances of seeing chronic pain added to New York’s program in the immediate future seems vague. In January, Dr. Howard Zucker, leading health official for the Cuomo Administration, rejected five additional qualified conditions (post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, and rheumatoid arthritis), citing a lack of scientific evidence that cannabis is effective in treating these conditions.

Incidentally, it is not necessary for the General Assembly to approve an expansion to qualified conditions. Health Commission Zucker has the authority to add any qualified condition to the program at any time.

Therefore, even if legislation to add chronic pain to the list of qualified conditions does by some bizarre miracle make it to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk this year for a signature, it will, in all likelihood, end up getting vetoed. And, unfortunately, any success with the other proposals, including one hoping to expand the number of dispensaries, will do very little to reinforce the stability of the program.

Is there any hope for an effective medical marijuana program in New York? Tell us below what you think.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. BrooklynChickLovesLiberty

    April 15, 2016 at 8:37 am

    NY’s medical marijuana program was set up to fail from jump. I wonder why any rational business person would invest in such a colossal failure waiting to happen.

  2. Lawrence Goodwin

    April 14, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    New York state government, like the other 49 state governments, consists of two chambers: The General Assembly and Senate. For 20 years, Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried has been determined to push the medical cannabis cause in his chamber—but he was rejected all along by rock-solid, bipartisan majorities of marijuana haters in the Senate, led by such men as the extremely ornery Health Committee Chair Sen. Kemp Hannon. Recently, though, Gottfried was joined by a courageous lady from Staten Island, Senator Diane Savino, and together they got the 2014 Compassionate Care Act (CCA) signed into law. Then Gov. Andrew Cuomo (on behalf of Senate tyrants) arrogantly imposed his will on both the CCA’s language and 19 million New Yorkers strong, feigning a desire to “protect public safety” with outgoing NY State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico (they really just hate cannabis plants). The CCA was gutted by the governor in June 2014 right before our eyes, mandating only 5 vertically-integrated companies to produce and sell medical cannabis oils, tinctures and pills in 20 storefronts across this huge state. Cuomo refused allowing the CCA to legalize legal sales of properly cut, dried and cured female flowers, called in law “marihuana”. He now gladly empowers state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker with the ability to thwart real progress toward expanding public access to medical cannabis.

    So no, one wastes time and effort to “hope” for the qualified patients in New York. That’s from someone who has advocated for legal cannabis growing in dozens of newspaper articles published near Albany, NY over the course of 16 long years. It breaks the heart how so many people suffering from medical problems are thusly deprived of legal access to these miraculous plants—all because New York ‘officials’ still hate cannabis flowers.

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