Medical Marijuana Status – How Is NYS Doing?


Well it has been two years since the medical marijuana (Med Mar) program here in New York state has been active and I thought it would be a good time to review a couple items especially in light of recent changes promulgated by the New York State Department of Health (DOH) which is the agency responsible for the implementation of the program. By the way, the two year report is here if you would like to review it for your own information.

As one recalls this program was touch and go for approval in the first instance as there was hesitancy on a few players part of the legal standing of the effort and the potential message about encouraging use of illegal substances. As a pharmacist I supported this effort for this reason Med Mar products are made to exact standards which provides consistency in dosing which is critical for treatment of any type of condition. This varies to the street drugs that are pervasive in our community. Taking into account the therapeutic nature of Med Mar as well I felt there was a need in the community to be met.

The roll out has been slow in some aspects however that is not a surprise to me as this is a very sensitive public policy initiative. Dispensaries have opened up, growing facilities are built and now more than six months ago patients are accessing product.

The challenges though are present. The slow enrollment of patients has not helped the manufacturers and dispensaries meet critical or sustainable volume to offset costs of the product. A lack of prescriber take up has limited prescribers available to treat patients. These two problems alone have been challenging and whereas the department has made progress, much more needs to be done.

Recently, the NYS DOH announced changes that I believe will set the program on the right trajectory, of which you can read here. Areas of support that are worthy of mentioning is the effort to expand the base of prescribers to include nurse practitioners as well as physicians assistants. Additionally, the department continues to improve the enrollment process for patients which I appreciate as I have had several constituents caught up in the process. There is discussion of solidifying a home delivery process which I support especially for patients who have the inability to access the dispensaries due mostly due to their medical condition and there is an effort to allow for the manufacturers to sell wholesale across dispensaries vs within each individual organization which will assist the business model and over time have a positive impact on product price for the patients in my opinion. Finally, I was pleased to see the expansion of chronic pain as a qualifying condition for Med Mar, which is an appropriate designation.

A concern is the expansion of dispensaries which although it might be warranted in some areas of the state (i.e. Manhattan which has one) I have concerns about in other parts of the state. In my discussions with the original five designated dispensaries, the long implementation of the program has impacted their business model and candidly they are no where near where they projected their sales would be at this time. Most felt that they would have a five year ramp up period before expansion of additional sites however the slow implementation that I have mentioned and has been reported by numerous media outlets over the last year has unintentionally suppressed the amount of patients able to access Med Mar which once again has not served the industry well nor the patient population.

In a recent letter I sent to the NYS DOH, I have requested that they carefully and appropriately review this expansion as the industry is still growing as we are only in year 3 and to make sure we keep in mind that expansion should not lead to the detriment of those who are already in business yet struggling due to the slow ramp up process.

I hope and trust that the department will keep this in mind especially since the NYS DOH has full access to the financial statements of all entities involved and therefore has a sense of their viability. We should not be in the business of protecting the industry or creating a monopoly however at the same time we want to appropriately expand the program to have a network of sustainable companies providing cost effective therapy and care to a population in need.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Medical Marijuana Status – How Is NYS Doing?
Author: John T. McDonald III
Contact: (518) 454-5694
Photo Credit: John Carl D’Annibale
Website: Times Union