New York expands medical marijuana program to include patients with chronic pain

Audra Linsner | Contributing Illustrator

Over 900 practitioners have been registered for the NYS Medical Marijuana Program and over 15,000 patients had been certified by their practitioners as of March 28.

Doctors in New York state can now prescribe medical marijuana for patients with chronic pain, after a new regulation took effect in March.

New York has some of the strictest medical marijuana laws in the country and does not allow smoking or edible medical marijuana products. This new regulation, however, is an attempt by the state to bolster its medical marijuana program, which according to The Poughkeepsie Journal, has struggled to register patients and prescribers.

“Improving patient access to medical marijuana continues to be one of our top priorities, as it has been since the launch of the program,” said Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, in a statement. “These key enhancements further that goal.”

With the passage of the new regulation, the state has also expanded the eligibility for medical practitioners to prescribe medical marijuana to their patients. Previously, the state only allowed licensed physicians to prescribe the drug, but now allows nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to prescribe. However, the medical practitioners must still take a Department of Health-approved course on medical marijuana before becoming certified, the DOH said in a statement.

Over 900 practitioners have been registered for the NYS Medical Marijuana Program and over 15,000 patients had been certified by their practitioners as of March 28, according to the DOH. In the U.S., 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Cancer, HIV infection and AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, among other things, are already qualifying conditions, according to the Department of Health’s website.

Although the law has relaxed on eligibility for medical marijuana consumption, advocates say it is still not enough.

“I believe the laws are way too restrictive. We prescribe medications that have way more negative effects on the body than what cannabinoids have on the body,” said Anthony Baney, a volunteer at Western New York National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is also a candidate running for the Erie County Legislature.

Baney said he believes the expansion of the program to cover patients with chronic pain is a positive move by the state, but added that he thinks the state could do more to expand marijuana legalization.

Full marijuana legalization, though, will unlikely be on the Legislature’s table for quite some time, Kristi Andersen, professor emeritus of political science at Syracuse University, said. There is not much of a push in the Legislature for total legalization of marijuana, she said.

New York does not have a referendum system similar to western states such as Washington or Colorado, Andersen added. Because of that, it is unlikely that New York would expand marijuana legalization via a ballot measure, she said.

Colorado was one of the first states to authorize medical marijuana use and then became the first state, alongside Washington, to authorize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21.

Abbey Borchers, deputy director of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Office of Marijuana Coordination, said the state’s constituents were looking for a criminal justice alternative to the war on drugs.

After legalization, the state’s arrests and citations for possession or consumption of marijuana privately by people ages 21 and older have decreased 81 percent from 2012 to 2015, she said.

Recreational marijuana pays for itself, but it is only “a drop in the bucket” of the state’s $27 billion budget, Borchers said. The money made from recreational marijuana goes toward abuse prevention campaigns, regulation and mitigating any negative outcomes from legalization, she said.

“It hasn’t just imploded with bad outcomes,” Borchers said.


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