Eight bills could revitalize cash-starved businesses, improve access for patients
By Lauren Rudick
Just three months after New York’s first medical dispensary opened, the state’s entire medical marijuana program is already at risk of failure.
It’s no secret that the New York Department of Health, the organization charged with implementing the Compassionate Care Act (CCA), is under heavy criticism for failing to anticipate an assortment of cost and logistical issues pertaining to the program’s launch. At the moment, the program does not service the needs of the patients for whom it was designed. Fortunately, a legislative fix is now in play with hopes of unleashing the CCA’s vast potential.
Currently, many who qualify for New York’s medical marijuana program are not using it, citing pricing concerns, a lack of physicians and the inability to travel to one of the mere 17 open dispensaries in the entire state. Some of these patients are the very people who inspired the CCA — cancer survivors and children with disabling seizure disorders. In a cruel irony, the black market is now their only option.
Those who arduously manage to surmount these hurdles are still unsatisfied with the program, citing dosing struggles and a lack of strain diversity, potency and delivery systems. Each dispensary may carry only five strains, and they may not trade strains among them. Dosing is limited to 10 milligrams of THC per serving, and physicians lack the education and autonomy to make dosing recommendations. Worse, there is no formal mechanism by which patients or physicians can address these deficiencies with the state.
Adding insult to injury, New York’s five licensed organizations struggle near insolvency due to lack of demand and worry about renewal of their two-year licenses, despite the significant financial qualifications that the state requires them to maintain. (New York’s registered organizations must pay a $200,000 registration fee are required to post a $2 million bond, or own all real estate and equipment necessary to operate.)
Two sympathetic lawmakers, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Senator Diane Savino, recently introduced eight bills, collectively designed to fix the CCA’s most glaring defects. To go into effect, the bills must be passed by both the Senate and Assembly and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo by June 16.
Each of these bills would strengthen the state program and significantly improve patient access.
Among a variety of potential benefits, licensees would receive a steady — and much-needed — capital infusion, out-of-state patients would gain access to the system, and the program would be brought in line with those promoting cannabis as a means to resolve opioid dependency and overdose problems.
One bill proposes to remove vertical integration requirements, which would allow outsourcing of manufacturing and distribution, thereby improving cost-effectiveness, lowering prices and opening the market to small businesses.
In April, Compassionate Care New York, the organization responsible for enacting the CCA, convened in Albany to support the passage of these eight bills. Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan revealed that Republican lawmakers don’t believe the CCA has been running long enough to determine whether it is truly a failure. It quickly became clear to the group that even supportive New York lawmakers lack knowledge pertaining to medical research and the many advances being made in the industry. To help resolve the issue, lawmakers invited cannabis professionals to submit industry data for immediate review. Now, the cannabis industry must respond. And in return, New York offers an enticing apple for the cannabis industry — the 12th-largest economy in the world.
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, is a white-shoe boutique firm with a track record for success, handling sophisticated legal matters that include business and corporate law.