As we enter a new year, and approach the one year anniversary of New York’s Medical Marijuana Program, we are given an opportunity to look back and reflect on the performance of the program, and what lies ahead.
In some ways, the program has been vastly successful. As of January 3, 2016, 807 practitioners have registered for the Medical Marijuana Program, and 12,067 patients have been certified by their practitioners.
However, the Medical Marijuana Program has also been criticized for its limited access, high prices, and the regulatory hurdles which have discouraged doctors and patients from participating, and have hurt medical marijuana companies trying to grow their business. For instance, some patients have to travel upwards of three hours to receive the required medication. Further, many companies have invested in large grow spaces, but due to the restrictive nature of the law, demand has remained low. Consequently, these companies are using only a marginal fraction of their overall capacity for growth.
Over the past month, the legislature has made several changes to the Medical Marijuana Program including:
- Adding chronic pain as an eligible condition for medical marijuana. Significantly, in other states that include chronic pain as a qualifying condition, 1%-2% of the state population registers for medical marijuana, which would translate to over 198,000 registrants in New York;
- Authorizing nurse practitioners to register with the Department of Health (via an online course) to recommend medical marijuana to patients. The Department of Health has also drafted regulations that would allow physician’s assistants to certify patients for medical cannabis;
- Adding five new licensed medical marijuana companies by 2018. The five existing companies vehemently oppose the legislature’s proposal, arguing that they are currently operating at a loss. However, the new legislation could permit registered companies to sell their products at other registered dispensaries, which is currently prohibited; and
- Drafting regulations to potentially create a home delivery system.
From the changes discussed above, it seems that the legislature is placing a priority on the interests of patients over the concerns of the existing registered dispensaries. Accordingly, the number of patients and demand for medical marijuana will likely increase over the next year.
However, since the landscape of the law will continue to develop and change, employers and businesses will need to stay on top of any new legal developments and contact their attorneys with any arising issues.