New York News Connection

December 31, 2015Available files: mp3 wav jpg

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries to Open in NY

But Patients Still Face Obstacles to Access

Andrea Sears

NEW YORK - Medical marijuana dispensaries could open in New York state next week, but patients may still be waiting to get access. The Compassionate Care Act, signed into law in July of last year, set Jan. 5, 2016 as a target date for up to 20 dispensaries to open statewide.

But Julie Netherland of the Drug Policy Alliance says the state Department of Health didn't launch the system to register and train doctors until last October and patient registration just opened last week.

"So that leaves patients very little time to find a physician, to get certified by that physician and then to apply to the state Department of Health for a patient ID card," says Netherland.

The Department of Health also has not published a list of doctors trained to certify medical marijuana patients, making it difficult for patients to identify a qualified physician.

Since the state passed its medical marijuana law, Beverly McClain, a cancer patient who championed the bill, has died without ever being certified to use the drug. And Netherland points out that access can literally be a matter of life or death to some children who have a severe form of epilepsy.

"Medical marijuana, in some cases, can really reduce both the number and severity of those seizures," she says. "And that can be life saving for these young kids because any one of these seizures can take their life."

Netherland says at least three children have died from epileptic seizures in New York in the past 18 months.

New York only lists 10 illnesses that qualify for medical marijuana and restricts the forms available to capsules, oils and liquids. Smoking and edible products are not allowed. And there will only be 20 dispensaries in a state with 20 million people covering 54,000 square miles. Netherland maintains that regulating medical marijuana is necessary, but of the 23 states that allow its use, New York is one of the most restrictive.

"What we've seen in New York is they have tipped the scales too far and over-regulated the program to such a degree that it really can restrict patient access," Netherland says.

Last month Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Medical Marijuana Emergency Access bill, intended to get marijuana to critically ill patients more quickly. But the Drug Policy Alliance says so far there's no indication that the law has had any impact.