The Cuomo administration is recommending significant expansions to the state’s fledgling medical marijuana program just nine months after it began.
The state Department of Health, in a report analyzing the program, offered 12 recommendations to improve the program, including: registering an additional five growers over the next two years, increasing the number of brands allowed under state law, allowing nurse practitioners to certify patients, allowing schools to administer medical marijuana, increasing the ability of manufacturers to advertise their product, studying whether medical marijuana might be used to treat conditions not currently listed as acceptable by the state and making it easier for providers to register with the program.
“We agree with the lion’s share of the recommendations,” said Ari Hoffnung, chief executive officer of Vireo Health, one of the five companies awarded a license to distribute the drug in New York. “It is a well thought out report. It is great to see that the Department of Health spent time and resources analyzing the program and coming up with thoughtful recommendations on how the program can be improved upon going forward.”
The recommendations, if implemented, would represent a wholesale change of the program, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo had lauded for being one of the most restrictive in the country. They also come come just three months after the five companies awarded licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana joined forces to lobby lawmakers for changes to the state’s Compassionate Care Act which was signed two years ago.
The law allowed five registered organizations, picked by the health department, to each set up four dispensaries across the state. However, it limited the type of marijuana that could be grown and how it could be produced and regulated the cost of each drug. Those were significant hurdles for any new business. Still, 43 companies applied for the five licenses, which were awarded in July 2015. The registered organizations were also prohibited from advertising their products, making it difficult to attract customers.
Since the organizatons’ lobbying efforts began in May, the number of patients certified to receive medical marijuana nearly doubled to 6,415, according to the state’s Department of Health. As of Aug. 9, 656 physicians had registered for the program.
Those numbers tell only a part of the story.
Through June 15, New York was averaging fewer than 2,500 transactions per month. That’s hardly enough business to support five registered organizations and 20 dispensaries, some of which rent space in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world. And if the state follows through on its call to double the number of registered organizations, it would be that much harder for those that already have a license to break even.
Steve Stallmer, a spokesperson for Etain, one of the five registered organizations awarded a license, told POLITICO New York in June that the first six months had been “challenging” and “frustrating.”
The organizations, as well as patient advocates, complained the law was too limiting. They have repeatedly called for the Cuomo administration, which has very broad powers to regulate the law, to expand the number of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana. The list currently stands at 10 conditions – cancer, Huntington’s Disease, neuropathies, irritable bowel disease, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, HIV or AIDS, ALS, epilepsy and Parkinson’s Disease – and requires an accompanying associated or complicating condition, such as severe or chronic pain, nausea or muscle spasms.
The recently released report indicates more than half of the patients certified have either cancer or neuropathies.
Hoffnung said that if the recommendations are implemented – and it is hard to imagine the Department of Health not acting on its own report – it could increase patient access, which would boost business.
“Every month, we are seeing an increase in the number of patients and physicians so we are clearly headed in the right direction,” he said. “With that said, we’d love to see things expedited and if some of the recommendations were implemented, I think access would improve and the market would grow significantly.”
News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: State Health Department Recommends Overhauling Medical Marijuana Program
Author: Dan Goldberg
Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer