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NY Medical Marijuana Regulations Up

WAMC composite image by Dave Lucas

With public and media attention squarely focused on the New York state budget agreement, the Department of Health on Tuesday quietly filed regulations for the state’s medical marijuana program.

New York posted final regulations for the state medical marijuana program, sticking to the original script: not varying far from the much-criticized draft regulations that first appeared months ago.

Longtime Manhattan Assemblyman Dick Gottfried sponsored the law. The Democrat, a champion of medical marijuana, believes the final regulations are needlessly restrictive and "gratuitously cruel."  "I don't know how anyone would get a license to produce and dispense medical marijuana in New York."

The number of authorized dispensaries is set at 20, which could make patients in outlying areas endure long commutes.  Final regulations do not allow inclusion of new conditions under which marijuana could be prescribed, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Bill Gilson, president of the New York City chapter of Veterans for Peace, issued a press release saying he is “dismayed that the final regulations fail to include PTSD, which so many of my fellow soldiers suffer from on a daily basis.”

Gottfried, the health committee chairman, has sponsored medical marijuana legislation for 17 years."It's much more restrictive than it needed to be because of the demands of Governor Cuomo. It's being implemented even more restrictively, which I think is severely disappointing and is contrary to what an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers seem to want."

Reports indicate health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is thinking about giving nurse practitioners the green light to prescribe the drug for patients.   Gottfried sees room for legislative fixes:   "We're gonna be looking at possible amendments to the law that will remove some of the obstacles. I don't know whether the administration would ultimately sign that legislation. We'll see. There is certainly a lot that the administration could do under the existing law to dramatically simply the regulations that they've put in place."

Some other concerns include the cost of the drug, which may be out of reach for seniors, social services recipients and those subsisting on low-paying jobs.  The health department will have final say on pricing.

According to Capital New York, bill co-sponsor Diane Savino of the Independent Democratic Conference said Wednesday she is pleased with the law's final regulations and urged critics to be patient with the health department and the fledgling program, expected to be fully operational at the beginning of 2016.

Unlike other prescription drugs, there won't be any crossing of state lines to fill prescriptions.  "If you go to Connecticut or Massachusetts or New Jersey or Vermont, or Colorado, and legally obtain medical marijuana and legally obtain medical marijuana, and bring it back to New York, you will be breaking the law here in New York," said Gottfried.

Monica Mahaffey, spokeswoman for the health department, responded to a request for comment by email.

"New York State – recognizing that possession and use of marijuana is illegal in the United States but that scientific evidence supports the efficacy of using cannabidiol in treating debilitating and life threatening illnesses and conditions – has created balanced legislation that ensures appropriate access through comprehensive regulations and safeguards. The State developed the regulations through this very critical lens to ensure that the entire program would not be subject to enforcement action or legal challenges.  Expanding the initial set of regulations would have subjected the State to unnecessary scrutiny and jeopardized the program’s ability to move forward in any meaningful manner. The Compassionate Care Act and the final regulations strike the required balance by implementing a strong and effective medical marijuana program in New York State. "

Additionally, on background: Many of the concerns raised were addressed by the regulations and many of requests are prohibited by the actual statute. You can view FAQs on the regulations and more here: http://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/medical_marijuana/

Medical Marijuana Regulations

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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