Officials at major medical marijuana companies are rejoicing in the dramatic policy changes to New York’s Medical Marijuana Program that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday, which aim to improve business for the fledgling nine-month-old industry.
The policy changes focus on improvements to patient access, such as home delivery to patients too ill to travel, and allowing nurses to prescribe the drug, changes which may be implemented as early as the end of September, according to a statement from the Governor’s office.
Two weeks ago the Health Department had appealed to the State with 12 suggestions to ease restrictions on the medical marijuana program that was legalized in 2014. The five medical cannabis companies, which operate a total of 17 dispensaries throughout the state, have struggled to secure a customer base and sustainable cash flow since they began opening in January 2016.
“We’ve always been interested in expanding the program,” Alphonso David, Cuomo’s chief legal aide, said in an interview to The New York Times. “We just wanted to make sure we had the data to support it.”
Over the next few weeks and months, the Health Department intends to:
- Provide delivery service for patients who have difficulty reaching dispensaries
- Double the number of companies doing business in the state which is said to be too few to serve New York’s 20 million population. (There are currently only 5 companies running 17 dispensaries in all of New York).
- Expand the number of qualifying conditions to include things such as chronic pain, PTSD and Alzheimer’s disease. Under current law residents are only eligible if they have cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, spinal cord injury, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, and Huntington’s disease.
- More brands of the drug will also be considered, although the law will still restrict medical marijuana to non-smoke formats such as drops, sprays and pills.
- Ease access at health-care facilities associated with educational entities, such as university hospitals, which have shied from the program because of its strict federal oversight.
- Ease the cost of the drug for some with a waiver of the $50 registration fee for those of qualifying economic hardship. Insurance does not currently cover medical marijuana in New York, and the out of pocket expenses run from $200 to $1,000.
- Broaden the companies’ advertising capabilities
- Improve the user-friendliness of the Medical Marijuana Data Management System which hosts the patient and provider certification and registration process
According the Health Department, about 675 physicians have been registered, with only about 7,000 patients officially certified. However, not all of those patients are consistent customers, reported the New York Times.
Officials from the five registered medical cannabis providers say they are grateful for the methodical approach to building the industry.
Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Vireo Health said his group applauds the government and the Department of Health for their commitment to patient access and making meaningful changes, specifically the inclusion of chronic pain as a prescribed condition, and for allowing nurses to certify patients, which will ideally open up the market to new clients.
“Every single person we serve has a life threatening and debilitating disease, and from an economic perspective,” said Hoffnung, “we are dealing with an extraordinarily small market of about 2,000 patients, and we hope that with the proposed changes we will be able to help more people.”
Though pleased with the majority of the policy proposals, company executives expressed opposition over the idea to bringing more companies into a market where the five established ones are struggling for their foothold.
“We are concerned with the proposals to add five more organizations,” Hoffnung told Metro. “At this time the market is not mature, it is very small, so we ought to hit the pause button on that proposal and give the five companies a chance to grow and build a sustainable business.”
Nicholas Vita, the CEO of Columbia Care, one of the biggest medical marijuana organizations in the country, said that although the growth of the program has been slow since its inception, he had anticipated at least a 24-36-month lead time to build the program responsibly.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Vita. “We collaborate with the state and together we will find ways to improve the program together.”