Medical Marijuana: Dispensaries In New York Now Legal

New York now says medical marijuana can be prescribed and distributed to patients suffering from a variety of illnesses. After nearly 18 months since the law’s passage, eight cannabis dispensaries opened on Thursday, offering various forms of the drug, including tinctures, concentrates, capsules, and vapors.

Under a 2014 law signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, marijuana for medical use became legal in New York. This came after years of lobbying on behalf of patients with debilitating diseases, yet the new law only comes as a bittersweet victory for supporters.

First of all, under strict rules written within the regulation, cannabis cannot be in a smokable or edible form. It must be turned into other forms by the companies that grow the plant. Secondly, the regulation also restricts the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to only 20 statewide.

The New York medical marijuana law only authorizes five companies to open cannabis dispensaries. Columbia Care, Bloomfield Industries, Etain LLC, Vireo Health of New York LLC, and PharmaCann LLC received approval to open a maximum of four facilities each. Although only eight of the 20 are currently accepting clients, the other 12 are expected to open before the end of the month.

Before a patient can buy medical marijuana, New York law requires they must register with the Health Department, wait for a purple and white registration card, then be certified by a state-approved physician. Additionally, the conditions needed for a patient to qualify for a prescription from a doctor are very limited.

As reported by the New York Times, the cannabis dispensaries that officially opened on Thursday saw very little buying activity. So far, only 51 patients have been certified for the program, and only 150 doctors are authorized to prescribe marijuana as medicine, according to New York’s Department of Health.

One man, who refused to be identified and suffers from neuropathy, entered a medical cannabis dispensary operated by Columbia Care in Manhattan.

“I wanted to find out the pricing, I wanted to find out the availability, I wanted to find out what the deal with it was. I spoke with the pharmacist, spoke with the people. They were as excited about seeing me as I was excited about seeing them.”

Another potential customer, who also declined to give his name, was looking for information that could help his wife’s severe foot pain.

“She’s been taking pain meds,” said the 65-year-old man. “She’s been through everything. She can’t find any help, neurologist, Chinese acupuncturist, two back surgeries.”

Patients who suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, intractable spasticity, epilepsy, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease potentially qualify for certification under New York’s program. Facility operators anticipate qualified patients will spend somewhere between $300 and $1,200 a month, as no insurance plan currently covers cannabis for medical use.

New York medical marijuana dispensaries open for business.
New York among states that allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. [Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

New York is somewhat late to the medical marijuana legalization bandwagon. Starting in 1996, other states, including California and Montana, have since allowed patients to use the drug for therapeutic purposes like pain relief.

Meanwhile, other states like Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have laws that allow for recreational use of the drug. Even just recently, Delaware modified its drug laws to decriminalize cannabis. Yet, due to tough drug laws enacted decades ago, it is unlikely New York will go beyond legalizing cannabis for anything other than medical reasons.

Although 23 states and Washington D.C. allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, only New York and Minnesota prohibit smoking of the drug. It is also one of only a handful of states that require specific physician training.

Medical marijuana in New York is now available to patients looking for relief not found through the use of traditional drugs. The newly-opened cannabis dispensaries are staffed by approximately 25 to 35 people, including licensed pharmacists, and can only sell the drug in liquid form.

[Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images]