New York’s medical cannabis program has finally been expanded, but the reviews have been mixed. On one hand, any expansion that increases patient access to one of the country’s most restrictive medical cannabis programs is a victory. On the other hand, the program still falls short of meeting patient demand, particularly in view of progressive and expansive medical cannabis programs across the country.
New York’s Compassionate Care Act requires the state Department of Health to issue two-year reports to the governor and Legislature on the medical use of cannabis, and to make appropriate recommendations for changes. In its first two-year report since the law was enacted in 2014, the Department of Health issued the following 12 recommendations, which were all signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in September.[pullquote]Home delivery services for medical cannabis will be permitted[/pullquote]
– In addition to physicians, nurse practitioners may now register to certify New Yorkers for medical cannabis, consistent with their current authority to prescribe opioid medications for those patients diagnosed with qualifying medical conditions under the Compassionate Care Act.
– Under a two-year, phased-in approach, five additional vertically integrated organizations will be registered to grow, process and sell medical cannabis (in addition to the five registered organizations currently in operation).
– Home delivery services for medical cannabis will be permitted.
– The Department of Health and the registered organizations will work together to make additional brands and strains of medical cannabis available to patients. Prior to this enactment, registered organizations were permitted to produce and sell only five strains.
– The Department of Health will explore ways to make it easier for health care facilities and schools to possess, secure and administer medical cannabis in a restricted manner that promotes and safeguards the health of registered patients.
– General amendments to the Compassionate Care Act will be added with respect to streamlining manufacturing requirements and broadening advertising capabilities of registered organizations.
– The Department of Health will conduct outreach in an effort to remove federal restrictions and impediments to scientific research on the benefits of medical cannabis, and to improve the registered organizations’ access to traditional banking relationships and financial transactions.
– The Department of Health will decide whether to include chronic intractable pain as a qualifying medical condition. The department will continue its efforts to identify and acknowledge evidence supporting the inclusion of additional qualifying conditions.
– Enhancements to the practitioner, patient, and caregiver certification and registration system, including the Medical Marijuana Data Management System, will be made.
– Independent testing laboratories will apply for ELAP (Environmental Laboratory Approval Program) certification to meet increasing demand for the quality assurance testing.
– The financial hardship waiver for the $50 patient and caregiver application fees will be expanded.
– The practitioner registration process will be streamlined and enhanced to make it easier and to incentivize practitioners who seek to register with the program. Furthermore, the Department of Health will explore new ways for patients to find registered practitioners, including publishing a list of consenting practitioners who have registered with the program. The department will also develop a method for practitioners to be listed publicly, as well as outreach to ascertain whether current registered practitioners are willing to be listed publicly.
These enhancements are a step toward improving patient access to medical cannabis in New York. Kate Hintz, the organizer for the non-profit organization Compassionate Care New York, agrees.
“I am really pleased with the recommendations proposed in the Department of Health’s report,” Hintz says. “If implemented in a timely manner, (the recommendations) have the ability to give New York’s program the boost it needs by serving more patients.”
Because New York encompasses among the largest municipal and regional economy of any state, it’s possible that a productive medical cannabis program would shape and influence legalization on a national level.
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.