The New York legislature failed to enact any of the proposed fixes to the state’s medical marijuana program before the legislative session ended last week, despite two bills – one allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify patients and another making the physician list public — passing the Assembly.
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D), who sponsored the initial Compassionate Care Act, said the Republican-led state Senate failed to show any willingness to enact the Assembly-approved proposals that would have helped patients struggling to get enrolled in the program, and that the Health Department should “take the steps within its power” to improve the program without legislators having to introduce legislation.
“There are still too few practitioners participating in the program, and patients should not have to try to find information through social media or randomly calling doctors,” he said in an email with Ganjapreneur. “Without action, New York will continue to deny care to tens of thousands of seriously ill patients.”
Two other bills, one to remove the 10 milligram limits and add eligible conditions, and another adding chronic pain not associated with a listed condition, failed to make it to the Assembly floor for a vote.
Last week, the Drug Policy Alliance released a report that found New York’s program is plagued by unaffordable medicine and “overall inaccessibility.” Kate Bell, the legislative analyst in charge of New York for the MPP, said they are “disappointed” at the legislative failures, calling the program “deeply flawed.”
“New York has one of the smallest number of patients per capita because it is so difficult for patients to access their medicine. Expanding the list of providers who can recommend medical marijuana is something that has been effective at expanding access in other states, and chronic pain, which is not included in New York, is one of the most common conditions for which patients use medical marijuana elsewhere,” she said in an email. “Adding chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions could also have helped reduce New Yorkers’ use of far more dangerous opioid painkillers.”
Julie Netherland, director for the DPA’s Office of Academic Engagement, says that even if these measures had been enacted by the legislature, the program would still be unaffordable for most present and future enrollees.
“More and more patients are basically saying they are going to continue purchasing medicine on the black market because it’s so much cheaper,” she said. “So we had hoped that, with the proposed legislation, [New York] could expand the market and bring the costs down — so that is still a major concern.”
Netherland explained that the low-enrollment, high-cost nature of the program is “challenging” for the five companies approved to cultivate and dispense cannabis in the state, but none have indicated to her that they plan on dropping out of the program.
However, it remains difficult for those producers to open up dispensary sites quickly because they, so far, have probably not seen returns on their initial investments and fees paid to the state.
“[Owners] have to jump through a lot of hoops,” Netherland said. “I think that creates a lot of costs for them.”
Under the law, the Health Department Commissioner has the power to make any of the changes that have been proposed by lawmakers, but have thus far decline to do so, forcing the issues to be hashed out in the legislature.
While the Health Department does not comment on pending legislation, in an email they lauded the 5,066 certified patients, and the more than 600 participating physicians enrolled in the program’s first five months.
“As these numbers continue to grow, our focus … will remain on ensuring that patients whose doctors believe they can benefit from medical marijuana have access to treatment,” the statement read. “We will continue to monitor the program and consider options to make it as effective as possible.”
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