The medical marijuana program in New York is expanding to include home delivery to patients. The state’s Department of Health will soon allow nurse practitioners to obtain cannabis and bring it patients who are unable to leave their homes.
Since the first medical cannabis dispensaries opened in New York starting January, over 7,000 patients have been approved for the treatment. Since then, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has looked for ways to improve the program for both patients and health practitioners.
“Since launching the program, the Department has worked closely with doctors, patients and registered organizations to gather information relevant to strengthening the program in anticipation of the required two-year report,” Zucker said.
The state decided to look at making changes to its medical marijuana program after a report issued by the Department of Health encouraged New York increased access to patients. In the report, industry experts described the state’s medical cannabis program as one of the most limiting ones in the United States.
Home delivery of cannabis is not the only change the medical marijuana program New York is proposing. The state wants to ease restrictions on the processing of medical weed. Also, the number of medical conditions that qualify a patient to receive the treatment may increase to include post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, patients diagnosed with AIDS, epilepsy, and cancer are eligible for medical marijuana.
Alphonso David, counsel to New York’s governor, said the medical marijuana program was originally designed with the intention to evolve and change as needed. According to him, loosening the current regulations can only help fellow New Yorkers in need of the treatment.
“This is enhancing the program so that we meet patient need and patient access,” he said.
Since the Compassionate Care Act was signed in 2014, the medical marijuana program has failed to gain wide acceptance in the health community. Over the past two years, many complained the cannabis program was far too restrictive and cumbersome. The regulation changes, including home delivery, proposed by the state will hopefully relieve some of the program’s burdens.
Some doctors remain reluctant to sign up for the program, fearing backlash from the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance. Mr. David believes allowing nurse practitioners to authorize medical cannabis will help alleviate the shortage of physicians willing to participate.
Currently, only five companies are licensed by the Health Department to dispense medical marijuana. As part of the updated regulations, the state wants to double that number to 10. Each licensed company can open four dispensaries, a number many consider still too few in a state with a population of almost 20 million residents.
While medical marijuana’s price was not addressed with the proposed changes, New York may soon offer a waiver for those experiencing a financial hardship. Patients who use cannabis must pay for the treatment out-of-pocket since health insurance does not cover the cost. Often, someone suffering from a disability has a hard time paying bills and medical cannabis that can easily cost upwards of $1,000 a month.
“That’s a lot of money for an MS patient because many are unemployed,” said Dr. Michelle Fabian, an assistant professor of neurology at the multiple sclerosis center at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Medical marijuana advocates are pleased with New York’s proposed changes.
“A lot of the recommendations that the Department of Health made are things that the patients have been asking for a year and a half,” said Kassandra Frederique, the state director of the New York office at the Drug Policy Alliance.
While New York’s medical marijuana program does not allow smoking of the drug, the plant can be used in other forms, including sprays and tinctures. Home delivery of marijuana is expected to roll out by the end of September.
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