The program for medical marijuana in New York is just under a year and a half old. It began in early 2016, but came with strict rules and controls. Limits to qualifying conditions, few doctors, and poor access have all led to a hobbling start for the young medical cannabis program. So while New Yorkers are closer to medical marijuana than they’ve ever been, there are still some important changes that need to take place for the program to be successful. Here’s the deal…
NY Doctors Don’t Seem Down To Prescribe Medical Cannabis
One of the major stumbling blocks of New York’s fledgling medical cannabis program is the simple fact that not enough doctors are behind it. Put simply, the state is having trouble recruiting medical practitioners to its medical cannabis program.
The stats are pretty disappointing. It has been 16 months since New York began its legal medical cannabis program. And yet, less than 1,000 doctors have gone through the steps to qualify for prescribing the drug.
And it’s not like New York makes it difficult for medical practitioners to register. All it takes is completing an online course. For state Senator Diane Savino, one of the longest-standing supporters of medical marijuana in New York, the lack of doctors represents “one of the biggest problems we have” with the program.
The shortage of doctors has had a domino effect on the success of the entire medical cannabis program. With too few doctors prescribing, the state has just 18,348 patients certified, according to figures from the Health Department.
Governor Cuomo, who is also fighting to decriminalize marijuana, blames the issue on two factors. First, he thinks doctors just aren’t knowledgeable about the uses and benefits of medical cannabis. Second, he believes they are uncomfortable with the idea of prescribing it. Another reason could be that doctors are nervous about breaking the law. Of course, cannabis is still illegal under federal law.
But there’s another reason, according to the state director of Compassionate Care New York, one of the groups who spearheaded the legalization campaign for medical marijuana in New York. The problem, says Kate Hintz, is that the Department of Health just isn’t encouraging doctors to get involved.
A Super-Restrictive Program Means Patients Aren’t Coming Back
Beyond the issue of a shortage of doctors and registered patients, things aren’t so good for the patients who are able to access medical marijuana in New York.
In the first place, prospective patients are having trouble finding licensed doctors in New York. And no wonder, considering the Health Department only published the list of certified practitioners last Friday, almost a year and a half into the program. As a result, many patients are left confused about exactly how to qualify for medical marijuana in New York.
But for the patients who have found a doctor, there’s yet another problem with the state’s program. Medical marijuana in New York is super-restrictive. Cost, it turns out, is one of the major factors contributing to that.
Of those 18,348 patients, 13,000 have received legal medical cannabis. That’s an issue in and of itself. But furthermore, only 8,000 of them have taken medical marijuana more than once. In other words, they’re not coming back.
The reason is that the cost of legal medical weed in New York is beyond the reach of most people. The cost of purchasing medical cannabis is much higher than it is in states like Colorado or California. Whereas in those places medical herb will cost you between $15 and $25 a day, in New York, it’s more like $180 a day.
For patients suffering from serious ailments like epilepsy, taking medical cannabis could cost upwards of $60,000 a year. Plans to allow more companies to sell medical marijuana in New York will hopefully be a step toward lowering prices.
Business Is A Bust for Medical Marijuana In New York
Indeed, maybe the program just needs time to grow. While many patients find the program too restrictive, the state is slowly qualifying more conditions for treatment with marijuana. For example, one of the major changes to the New York law now allows for chronic pain. And just this month, a bill to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions made it through the New York Senate.
Overall, however, the state’s tight controls have put pressure on the struggles of medical cannabis companies. Rather than the bustling commerce lawmakers had hoped for, business is a bust.
There are still only a handful of companies the state selected to provide medical marijuana for people suffering from diseases like cancer, AIDS, and MS. And many of those companies are still in the red, like Ari Hoffnung’s Vireo Health of New York. Hoffnung told the Buffalo News that his company “is not close to break-even yet.” “Based on my understanding, no one has made a dime here in New York,” he added.
For the state’s part, only half of the $1 million in projected tax revenue came in. That’s a rough first year, and has many skeptical of the future of medical marijuana in New York.