In a resounding victory for the state’s medical marijuana patients, the New York Department of Health agreed on Tuesday to relax its rigid medical marijuana regulations, including a legal home delivery system.
New York’s medical marijuana program — in existence since January and serving only 7,000 patients, has come under fire for being one of the most restrictive in the nation — will now better serve the needs of its patients and improve accessibility. Among the highlights of the state’s announcement:
- Authorize home delivery to patients to ill to travel to a legal dispensary. Today, there are only about 20 dispensaries to serve the entire state. In California, for example, there are 750,000 registered patients and literally hundreds of access points to purchase cannabis.
- Allow nurse practitioners — not just doctors — to prescribe medical marijuana. Currently, there are about 17 counties in upstate New York without a doctor who is registered to prescribe cannabis.
- Expand the qualifying conditions for patients seeking cannabis treatment to post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease and other ailments. In what would be considered a major victory for patient advocates, intractable pain will be considered a qualifying condition. As of now, only severe illnesses such as cancer, AIDS and epilepsy qualify — a limitation considered too narrow by most experts.
- Create a “hardship waiver” for patients who are unable to pay $50 to register for a medical marijuana card.
- Expand the number of companies allowed to manufacture and distribute cannabis. As of today, only five companies are allowed to participate in the program.
“A lot of the recommendations that the Department of Health made are things that the patients have been asking for for a year and a half,” Kassandra Frederique, the state director of the New York office at the Drug Policy Alliance, told the New York Times.
Apparently, the state was listening to the criticism of the program. “We’ve always been interested in expanding the program,” Alphonso David, Governor Cuomo’s counsel, told the Times. “We just wanted to make sure we had the data to support it.”
The recommendations from the health department will undergo a 45-day review. But many of the new regulations, including home delivery, could be enacted immediately.
Most of the changes were detailed in the Department of Health’s report “Medical Use of Marijuana Under the Compassionate Care Act” published earlier this month.