New York's Medical Cannabis Program Expands - What's improved & what still needs improvement?

By: Saif Khan

New York's medical cannabis program - known as the Compassionate Care Act - has received criticism since its inception in 2014. Even once Governor Cuomo had signed off on the final - heavily truncated - version of the bill, advocates and prospective patients were anticipating problems with the implementation; and they have mostly been proved right.

Whether its a lack of availability of products, distance from dispensaries or prohibitive pricing; patients are not being adequately served. Physicians participation has had its own hurdles: complicated and slowed down by a convoluted registration process and limited by an understandable hesitation of risking their medical license for recommending a Schedule 1 substance.

Last month, the NYSDOH published a report detailing the progress of the CCA along with a series of recommendations to expand the program, which it appears Cuomo and his counsel will implement in the coming months.

The latest numbers show approximately 7000 patients have signed up, with less than 700 physicians registered.

Here are some of the key details regarding the CCA and its expansion:

  • 5 current licensed providers - Etain, Columbia Care NY, Pharmacann, Bloomfield & Vireo Health would be joined by 5 more licensees, each able to dispense at 4 locations.
  • With 17 dispensaries currently open out of the 20 originally scheduled locations, new measures would gradually double this to 40
  • Many dispensaries are still only carrying 1 or 2 products - usually small bottles of tincture for upwards of $50 - recommendations for expansion include providing a greater variety of brands and medical cannabis products for patients.
  • Due to the relatively small number of locations, some patients are more than 2 hours from their nearest dispensary. Recognising that many patients unable to collect medicine themselves, the NYSDOH's expansion plan would allow for home delivery of cannabis medicine.
  • To ease the patient-to-physician ratio, doctors AND nurse practitioners will now be able to write recommendations.
  • Chronic pain will be added to the list of qualifying conditions, which means a greater number of patients will be able to legally use cannabis medicine.

The current medical brochure for Patients and Physicians will need updating to reflect these changes.

Other noteworthy recommendations from the NYSDOH are to streamline the manufacturing process and for an online list of participating physicians to be made publicly available to patients.

These are all welcome and necessary additions to the program, but even with these adjustments, New York's program must continue to expand and improve.

Here is what we at PotBot feel must come next - 

  • Adding PTSD, Alzheimer's, Dementia and Rheumatoid Arthritis to the list of qualifying conditions with urgency, would take total of qualifying conditions from 11 to 15 and serve thousands more in need of cannabis medicine.
  • Allowing cannabis in raw flower AND vegetative form - this allows patients true self-determination: the ability to use raw cannabis leaf for juicing or raw flower for vaporising, smoking or even infusing into oil or food for ingestion.
  • Creating provisions and a framework for home cultivation, as it is still the most cost effective solution to low-income patients to acquire a medicine that is still not subsidised in any way by health insurance companies.

The neuroprotective and neuroregenerative properties of cannabis compounds have been demonstrated in animal studies and has even been recognised in a patent by the US government. With little to no treatment options for Alzheimer's or Dementia, and a series of opiates with severe side effects prescribed for PTSD, cannabis medicine should be available to patients who experience positive effects and wish to use it to mitigate many of the symptoms of these debilitating conditions.

Part of cannabis's battle for medical legitimacy includes being incorporated into the list of medicines that are currently subsidised by health insurance companies. The Schedule 1 classification of cannabis is the main obstacle in this issue of liability, as a federally illegal substance not recognised by insurance companies in the same way as pharmaceutical medicine.

In conclusion, there is much to be celebrated regarding recent changes, but New York's program must expand further to truly benefit the sheer volume of patients needing access to cannabis medicine.

For a Detailed report of the Compassionate Care Act thus far and new recommendations, click here