New Yorks medical marijuana program should double in size and see a broader range of authorized health providers, according to recommendations by the New York State Department of Health.
The recommendations came as part of a new reportMedical Use of Marijuana Under the Compassionate Care Act posted by the DOH this week, two years after the medical marijuana law was signed into effect by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Since the program began operations in January, more than 5,000 patients have been certified with the program while more than 600 physicians were registered across the state. The DOH said thats more than other states whose programs have been in existence for significantly longer than New Yorks program.
In the eight counties of Western New York, just 39 practitioners had registered, while 491 patients were listed with active certification through June 15. Thats out of 601 practitioners and 4,998 patients registered statewide (patients must re-certify monthly). The highest concentration locally is found in Erie County, where 34 practitioners are based and 295 patients are located; and Niagara, with two registered practitioners and 56 patients.
The DOH made three recommendations tied to increasing access: Doubling the number of suppliers by registering five more organizations over the next two years; allowing nurse practitioners to certify patients; and evaluating the possibility of home-delivery services to allow for expanded distribution. It also recommended exploring ways to make it easier for health-care facilities and schools to possess and administer medical marijuana for patients.
Other recommendations deal with business growth for registered organizations, including streamlining manufacturing requirements and allowing registered organizations to advertise their participation in the program; as well as making more brands of medical marijuana products available to patients and exploring other forms of products.
It also recommended the easing of federal restrictions that would enable scientific research and allow registered organizations to conduct financial transactions and establish traditional banking relationships.
On the patient side, the DOH recommends reviewing evidence to allow medical marijuana to be used for other qualifying conditions that lead to chronic pain and expanding a financial-hardship waiver to lower the cost of application feeds for patients and caregivers. It will also reconsider the practitioner database, including exploring ways to make sure patients have access to a public list of consenting practitioners.
Changes are definitely needed in the program, said Christina Kelly, who is registered as a caregiver for a daughter with epilepsy.
The current registered organizations should have a full spectrum of products available to meet the current demand, she said, adding that one dispensary is out of product that patients need. The dispensaries arent able to stay open regular hours or consistent hours because they are watching their bottom line.
Others are hopeful the recommendations will lead to better transparency and more access for those who need medical marijuana.
Bottom line: we need to put patients above profits and politics, said Daniel Ryszka, a pharmacist and caregiver who has two children receiving medical marijuana for seizures. Hes also co-founder of Medical Cannabis Connection Inc., a nonprofit that provides information and education for providers, patients and caregivers about the benefits of cannabis.
I have heard most of the ridiculous responses without merit and it gets exhausting, he said. I feel that as this fight is as equivalent as us climbing Mount Everest in flip-flops. It is slow and there are numerous roadblocks ahead of us. It seems like a monumental task, but I am not going to stop until this life-saving medicine is accessible to everyone for any medical condition.
The report includes data on the number of practitioners and patients participating in the program through June 15, including which of the 10 conditions qualified them to receive the medical marijuana. It also breaks down geographically where the program is seeing the most, or least participation.
A total of five companies authorized by the state to participate by growing and supplying medical marijuana are operating 17 dispensaries across the state, including two in Erie County, and with each permitted to manufacture up to five brands of medical marijuana products. Of the 43 companies that initially applied as registered organizations, none of the half dozen from Western New York were among the first first five selected. It’s unknown if any of those will reapply if the program is expanded as recommended.
Among the 10 qualifying medical conditions, neuropathies and cancer make up the two largest categories of patients, with 1,704 or 34.1 percent and 1,238 or 24.8 percent, respectively. Pain is cited by 53.5 percent or 3,737 patients as the qualifying complication, while severe or persistent muscle spasms accounts for another 21.1 percent, or 1,477 patients.
In terms of age, adults over 50 account for the majority of users: 1,275 patients or 25.5 percent are ages 51-60, while another 965 patients or 19.3 percent are ages 61-70.
The report said DOH has approved 99.9 percent of applications received from certified patients seeking to register, with the average time dropping from 11.3 days in January when the program first launched down to 5.4 days in mid-June.