If you ask most people to name the states in which cannabis is legal, their first response (in general) will be Colorado, California and Washington. But, there’s a strong showing among the Northeastern states of the U.S. In fact, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and New York have all legalized medical cannabis. Two of those states—Maine and Massachusetts—will be voting to legalize adult-use on November 8.
Taking a closer look at New York’s road to legal medical cannabis, what started as a steep learning curve has plateaued over the past year as the medical cannabis program was implemented. Governor Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act into law in 2014, making medical cannabis legal in the state, but it took two years of emotional debate to put what some call the most conservative regulations in the country in place.
The list of original qualifying ailments, which was too restrictive according to some medical cannabis advocates, was specific to severe debilitating or life threatening conditions including cancer, positive status human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication or intractable spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and Huntington’s disease.
Legislation awarded five contracts to private cannabis growers, who were initially allowed to operate four dispensaries. The Compassionate Care Act expressly restricts smoking as a certified medical use of cannabis; approved forms include liquid and oil for vaporization as well as capsules and tinctures that can be administered orally or under the tongue.
Costs for cannabis medicine has been expensive too; some patients have reported having to pay upwards to $1,000 per month for it. According to growers, this is in part due to the limitation of producing only extracted oils, which requires cultivators to grow 15 to 20 times more plants to produce the medicine than if they were permitted to sell buds that patients could smoke. However, by expanding the number of growers/producers in the market, costs could be driven down through competition; something other states have already learned.
The limited number of medical cannabis patients in New York also impacts costs. As of October, 724 physicians had registered to participate in the program and a little over 9,000 patients have been certified by physicians to access medical cannabis*. Many say these numbers are too low. Doctors are hesitant to participate because provisions in the program require doctors to make recommendations on patient certification forms as to brands of cannabis medicine, modes of taking it and allowable doses. And, patients have found it difficult to find doctors, access dispensaries, and—in some cases—pay the cost of the medicine.
Another problem faced in New York is the large racial disparity in marijuana arrests. We know that racial disparity is a problem across the United States, but according to information from marijuana.com, New York had the largest racial disparity out of the 25 states in which data was collected. African American New Yorkers are 13 times more likely than Caucasians to be arrested for cannabis possession.
There is good news in New York though; patients and advocates have been heard. Eight new pieces of legislation have added qualifying medical conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, dystonia, muscular dystrophy, wasting syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), rheumatoid arthritis and lupus as well as chronic pain.
As of September, there were 17 dispensaries with three more slated to open and a plan calling for up to 20 more. New York is also expanding its program to include home delivery as well as allowing nurse practitioners to certify patients as qualified to consume medical cannabis. There’s also been a proposal to expand the roster of five private growers to 10. And, the new NYPD Police Chief James O’Neill has described “stop and frisk” technique often used when arresting individuals of marijuana possession as a debacle.
Want to Be Part of New York’s Cannabis Industry?
The changes occurring to New York’s medical marijuana program have happened rather quickly—defining the original regulations took two years, but changes to the program happened within the past year. More dispensaries will open, new jobs will become available, more health professionals require cannabis training, and more patients are becoming aware of cannabis as a medical treatment.
If you want to be part of the cannabis industry in New York—or anywhere in the United States—knowledge and networking will open doors. Oaksterdam University is hosting an indoor horticulture seminar in New York in December. This seminar is a good choice for growers, patient consultants, doctors and nurses, caretakers and anyone serious about gaining cannabis knowledge and mastering growing skills. You’ll receive four days of intensive instruction, 26 hours of grow training, networking with cannabis experts, and certification (optional) to help you prepare to work in this growing industry.
New York Horticulture Seminar – December 3-6, 2016
Hotel Beacon, 2130 Broadway & 57th, New York – 10 am – 6 pm
There’s Still Time to Register for OU’s Las Vegas Horticulture Seminar!
Las Vegas Horticulture Seminar – November 11-14, 2016
The Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada – 10 am – 6 pm
*New York’s population is about 20 million.
Resources: New York State Medical Marijuana Program, New York Department of Health; Compassionate Care NY; How Governor Cuomo Made Medical Marijuana Insanely Expensive, ArtVoice, May 5, 2016; In Expansion, New York’s Medical Marijuana Program Will Offer Home Delivery, New York Times, August 29, 2016; New York Looks to Expand Medical Marijuana Program, CBS New York, September 4, 2016; Cannabis Activist Group Opens Upstate New York Chapter, WAMC, Northeast Public Radio, October 10, 2016; New Report: Blacks 13 Times More Likely To Get Arrested For Weed in New York, High Times, November 4, 2016