It’s been about two years since New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed the Compassionate Care Act into law, yet there remains a lot of work to be done to make it accessible. Not only are there too few patients and doctors to support the program, making the price of medicine sky high – but PTSD was recently rejected as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis.
It was signed into law in 2014 but it wasn’t until January of this year that legal medical cannabis went into effect. “The program is too narrow and too small,” said State Senator Diane Savino at the Cannabis and Hemp Association’s July meeting in New York City.
A lack of patients and even fewer registered doctors in New York State are just the tip of the iceberg. Sen. Savino is a Democrat in the state legislature, she’s represented the 23rd Senatorial District in the NYC metro area since 2004. She told hemp and cannabis supporters that progress means figuring out how to get more doctors to take the 4-hour online course to become registered in the Empire State. At $249, for most doctors it’s not the price but the cost of their reputation.
There remains work to be done in destigmatizing the plant in New York and the East Coast. Once we get past that, more doctors will register and more patients can be prescribed cannabis, which also means more dispensaries with products at a lower cost.
Currently, there are only 639 registered doctors for New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program, and 5,966 patients certified by those doctors. There are only 5 licenses awarded by the state to manufacture and manage the 20 dispensaries throughout the state.
“If we let the few current dispensaries go under – that’s the end of the program,” warned Sen. Savino. She’s encouraging New Yorkers to participate with a recent press release on how to get a medical cannabis card, and how doctors can register for the online class.
These issues arising from the New York medical cannabis program are on the backburner for now. Instead, the drug on the mind of New York legislators is opioids. The opioid epidemic has lawmakers flooding the assembly with dozens of bills aimed at fixing the pharma-induced issue. Savino said most of the key players who could spark change on drug policy are keeping quiet.
“Doctors are putting their head in the ground when we were talking about opiate abuse,” said Savino at the meeting, “And cannabis isn’t even in the discussion.”
She ended her appearance with a question and answer period. Marika Cooper, of the Cannabis Doctors of New York, asked about changing the sign-up process for patients, saying she’s heard from eligible New Yorkers who are discouraged from the cannabis program because some of them can’t even log onto the computer. Cooper helps people sign up for the program and said she’s heard complaints that the state website kicks off users too quickly, especially for those with ailments that make it hard to type.
“[Doctors, Pharmacists, and the VA] need to be a part of this talk on healthcare. It’s not a separate discussion anymore, it’s PTSD, it’s pain management,” she said.
The 23rd District encompasses the North and East Shores of Staten Island and portions of Southern Brooklyn, including Bensonhurst, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Dyker Heights, Gravesend and Sunset Park.