When New York’s medical marijuana industry was launched in January of 2016 it was considered to be one of the most restrictive in the United States. Patients, experts, and even the Health Commissioner of the state of New York, believed that access to medical cannabis was too difficult for patients in need based on the limited number of health conditions allowed.
New York began its medical marijuana industry with a very strict set of conditions that allowed patients to access cannabis. This only included conditions that were considered extremely serious or terminal, including HIV/AIDs, Parkinson’s, Cancer, Epilepsy, MS, and other equally serious conditions.
Chronic pain was recently added to the list of reasons for which patients could receive a medical marijuana recommendation. Adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition has been a major step in allowing more patients in need to access medical marijuana. This is especially important as cannabis is now being seen as an effective alternative to harsh opioids that are often prescribed for chronic pain.
The new changes are part of an effort by the state to put medical cannabis within reach for those who need it most. Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement about the program and a recent changes to the program, "We are constantly evaluating the program to make it more effective for patients and practitioners, and we believe that the implementation of these recommendations will do just that.” This echoes the results of a report by the New York Department of Health that recommended increasing accessibility of the program.
Currently there are about 7,000 patients and twenty dispensaries that support patients across the state. For a state the size of New York this limited scope greatly limits accessibility for patients who may need medical cannabis for a variety of conditions. When the state’s medical program initially launched, it only allowed doctors licensed in the state of New York, to recommend medical marijuana. Recent changes however, have since expanded the pool of people who can recommend cannabis by allowing Physician’s Assistants and Nurse Practitioners.
Many other bills have been proposed to add a variety of conditions to the list of qualifiers, but many of those bills fail to get beyond the state senate’s health committee. A new bipartisan bill, however, has gained traction in New York to add Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis. We have seen that cannabis, particularly CBD based products, can greatly benefit sufferers of PTSD, many of whom are veterans.
The bill has passed through the New York health committee and is now going up for a vote in the state senate. Michael Krawitz, the executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, has said about the progress of the bill, “I am grateful to the Senate Health Committee for advancing this compassionate bill, and on behalf of countless veterans who could benefit, I urge the full Senate to promptly approve the bill.
Veterans with PTSD should not have to choose between FDA-approved medications that carry a black box suicide warning and off-label drugs with no clinical efficacy and horrible side effects…There is another way: medical marijuana has helped veterans have a restful night’s sleep instead of night terrors, and thus experience a better quality of life.” The bill to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions is not the only bill related to cannabis that is going to the senate floor.
Bill 582, which was put forward by assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, is attempting to add dysmenorrhea and other PMS related pain to the list of approved conditions. This bill has a high profile supporter, Whoopi Goldberg, who is willing to come forward and help the cause of getting this bill pushed forward. Goldberg said she will work hard to help the state senate understand why Bill 582 is important, “I'm going to try. I strongly believe that I can help them understand why this is not a high.” Even though chronic pain is currently seen as a qualifying condition, menstrual related pain is not considered chronic pain under the law.
Increasing the amount of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana helps greatly increase patients accessibility to cannabis. Many more patients in New York could benefit from cannabis, and these bills could allow those people to gain the benefits of medical marijuana. That said, patients have a limited selection of medical cannabis products and are only allowed to purchase products such as tinctures and capsules and flower is not available. An expansion of products would benefit a variety of patients as not every product works for every patient.
There is also the larger issue which is a lack of licensed doctors, growers, and producers. New York Governor Cuomo has addressed the lack of doctors to help expand the cannabis industry by saying, “We need to get more doctors knowledgeable and comfortable in prescribing marijuana.” The expansion of the number of prescribing doctors is not aided by the Medical Society of New York, which has made comments about the supposed lack of scientific evidence to support cannabis as a medication.
Despite these comments, there is a desire for expanded medical marijuana industry in the state and there is the patient base to support it. The whole industry, however, it needs to expand in unison. As the amount of qualifiable conditions expand, there will need to be an increase in doctors who can recommend the product as well as an expansion of growers of producers who can feed the increasing demand for medication.