*This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now at a store near you.
Meaningful expansions to the medical cannabis programs in New York and New Jersey have finally arrived.
Since the implementation of their respective programs, the health departments in both states have been continually criticized for the lack of patient access and quality, consistent and affordable medication. But both state agencies have taken action to expand their programs and are asking the public to weigh in on further proposed regulatory modifications designed to increase both supply and demand.
The original five registered organizations permitted by the state to grow, process and sell certain (non-flower) cannabis products attempted to block the New York Department of Health from issuing licenses to five new organizations (those that placed 6-10 in the state’s notoriously rigorous and expensive application process).
But in August, the state announced the issuance of new licenses anyway. The following organizations are preparing to open up to 20 new dispensaries: Citiva Medical, Fiorello Pharmaceuticals, New York Canna, PalliaTech and Valley Agriceuticals.
Valley Agriceuticals was recently acquired by Canada’s iAnthius (CSE: IAN) (OTCQB: ITHUF), a publicly traded fund with multiple cannabis holdings in the U.S. The $17.3 million deal was comprised of $2.3 million in cash and $15 million in iAnthius stock and includes real estate and a cultivation facility.
The state and medical cannabis proponents hope the addition of five new registered organizations will increase competition, quality, product variety and geographic distribution, while also reducing prices. Plus, the state Department of Health also made changes to increase demand by adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition, allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to recommend medical cannabis, permitting home delivery and publishing a list of registered physicians. In addition, the inclusion of post-traumatic stress disorder has been approved by the Senate and the Assembly, but awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.
According to the state Department of Health, as of Aug. 8, there were 1,155 physicians registered to recommend medical cannabis to New Yorkers, and 26,561 patients have enrolled in the program — a whopping 77% increase since the inclusion of chronic pain in late March.
Riding this momentum, the state proposed in mid-August a series of additional improvements to the program, designed to improve the experience for patients, practitioners and registered organizations. The state hopes to: (a) expand the variety of medical products available to patients to include topicals (lotions, ointments and patches), chewable and effervescent tablets and lozenges and non-smokable forms of ground plant matter; (b) allow prospective patients (accompanied by people other than their designated caregivers) and practitioners to visit dispensaries and speak directly with principals for educational purposes; (c) offering a truncated two-hour course for practitioners to register (in addition to the current four-hour course); and (d) implement a variety of other enhancements, including broadening marketing capabilities, streamlining manufacturing requirements, amending security requirements and clarifying laboratory testing requirements.
These proposed regulations were slated for publication Aug. 23 and subject to a 30-day comment period prior to adoption.
The New Jersey Department of Health received a formal recommendation in late July on behalf of the Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel to add certain debilitating conditions to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis under the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, including chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, migraines, anxiety, chronic pain of visceral origin and Tourette’s syndrome.
To support this proposed expansion, the panel is considering a variety of statutory factors, including: the extent to which such conditions, and corresponding evidence of the medical efficacy of cannabis to treat those conditions, are generally accepted by the medical community, and the availability of conventional therapies to alleviate the suffering caused by such conditions. The recommendations were posted on July 21 and remained open to public comment for 60 days.
In addition, in early August, the state approved licensure of Harmony Foundation in northern New Jersey, bringing the total number of vertically integrated “alternative treatment centers” to six, which will produce and sell medical cannabis to patients in the 11th most populous state in the U.S. To date, there are more than 13,000 New Jersey patients and 620 caregivers enrolled in the program.
The expansion of the state’s medical program, however, is overshadowed by the prospect of an adult-use program. Governor Chris Christie, a long-time opponent of medical cannabis, will be replaced in 2018, and the gubernatorial front-runner, Democrat Phil Murphy (D), seeks to prioritize implementing an adult-use program as among the first orders of business. Numerous lawmakers also support regulating cannabis like alcohol, with Senate president Steve Sweeney telling local media he’s “1,000%” in favor of legalization.
As seen in states that have “gone rec,” existing medical providers would be permitted to immediately begin sales under the new initiative.
The uptick in activity in the Empire and Garden states is a boon to the industry and long overdue.
Lauren Rudick represents investors and startup organizations in all aspects of business and intellectual property law, specializing in cannabis, media and technology. Her law firm, Hiller, PC (www.hillerpc.com), is a white-shoe boutique firm with a track record for success and handling sophisticated legal matters that include business and corporate law.