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Survey of New York Patients and Caregivers Finds Serious Flaws in Medical Marijuana Program

A recent survey by the Drug Policy Alliance found New York’s medical cannabis program is plagued by unaffordable medicine and “overall inaccessibility,” based on feedback from 255 patients and caregivers.

According to the report, more than half of those surveyed have, so far, been unsuccessful finding a doctor to certify them for the program and three out of five have been waiting three to four months to find a physician registered with the program. Of the respondents who have obtained medical cannabis through the program, 77 percent reported being unable to afford the necessary medicine, with 70 percent saying it would cost them $300 or more per month.

“New Yorkers deserve more transparency and information about how the state’s medical marijuana program is performing,” Julie Netherland, PhD, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of Academic Engagement said in a press release. “Our data confirms what we have heard from patients and caregivers for months – New York’s program is not easily accessible, and even for patients who manage access the program, most cannot afford the medication. We urge the legislature to act quickly and pass these bills to improve the program so patients in need can get relief.”

Following their report, the group is urging lawmakers to pass three bills that would help overhaul the system. The bills, sponsored in the state Assembly by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D), would authorize nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify patients for the program (A.9510), add chronic pain as a qualifying condition (A.9514A), and add more producers and dispensaries in the state (A.9747A). Both carry same-as bills in the Republican-dominated state Senate. A.9510 (S.6998) passed the Assembly last month and now sits in the Senate Health Committee, where it is sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D). A.9514A and A.9747A have both stalled in the Assembly following their move out of their Health Committee.

The lack of dispensaries allowed under the law was a concern for advocates from the beginning – allowing for just 20 total dispensaries for a state of almost 20 million people and 54,000-square-miles. The Drug Policy Alliance survey found that 27 percent of registered patients and caregivers travelled one to five hours to access a dispensary.

During a press conference last week, Gottfried and advocates lobbied for lawmakers to pass the proposals. During his remarks, Gottfried was hopeful the bills would be voted on by lawmakers this session – which ends on June 16.

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