In an effort to get medicine into the hands of more patients, new legislation coupled with new products could bring welcome change to the New York medical marijuana scene.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent move to rescind the Obama-era Cole Memo may have given federal prosecutors the power to go after the pot industry, but it stopped just short of directing them to do so. Unfazed by this token anti-toking gesture, pro-pot legislators and canna-biz leaders are continuing to work to expand the availability of legal marijuana to those who need it and want it.
Such is the case in New York.
While New York is one of 29 states in the nation to legalize medical marijuana, its program — signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 under the Compassionate Care Act and launched in 2016 — was initially one of the most conservative in the nation. At first, only patients with illnesses including cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease were permitted to consume smokeless forms of cannabis. The state added chronic pain to that list of qualifying illnesses in 2016, and post-traumatic stress disorder last year.
Not surprisingly, the slowly expanding list of qualifying conditions has hampered New York’s medical marijuana from attracting patients. According to Health Department data cited by the Daily News, only 40,286 patients currently use the program. However, new regulations announced last summer expanded the methods New York medical marijuana could be offered, and at least one company is seizing the opportunity to launch new products — and attract new customers.
The 2014 law limited forms of the drug to capsules and liquids and oils for vaporization. According to the Daily News, Etain Inc. has become the first grower in the state to receive preliminary approval from the Health Department to offer newly permitted products, including pot lozenges and ground marijuana flowers for use in vaporizers.
A health department spokeswoman told the paper that the new products must still undergo “rigorous testing” before they can hit the market. Hillary Peckham, Etain’s founder and chief operations officer, is hopeful that the products will hit shelves in March.
“Whether you’re the parent of a child with epilepsy, a cancer patient, or a veteran dealing with PTSD, you shouldn’t have to live in fear when seeking legal medical treatment for a debilitating illness,” she says.
If recently introduced legislation is enacted, all of those patients listed by Peckham — and more — could have access to medical marijuana with as little as a doctor’s note.
Introduced by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, Assembly Bill 8904 would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana for any serious condition — not just those currently allowed per the state’s medical marijuana program.
"I have always opposed a restricted conditions list for medical marijuana," Gottfried told MERRY JANE. "No other medication has a statutory list of what conditions it may be used for because healthcare professionals, not the state, should make prescribing decisions."
While it’s too early to tell if or when the bill will actually pass, support for it is building across the state due to the marijuana program’s potential to provide patients with a safer alternative to dangerous painkillers.
"That's crucial for us in New York right now, facing the opioid crisis," says Melissa Moore, New York deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "In this moment, it's clear that New Yorkers are sick and tired of marijuana prohibition getting in the way of people's ability to access medication and to be able to live as healthfully as possible."
Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates about New York medical marijuana laws and other legalization efforts across the nation.