New York legislative session ends with no improvements to flawed medical program


Last update: June 21, 2016


Despite the valiant efforts of Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Senators Gustavo Rivera and Diane Savino, none of the many bills that would have improved New York’s medical marijuana program passed this session. Most of them died in the Health Committee of the state Senate. Please click here to find out who your state representatives are, and contact them to urge them to improve the medical marijuana program next session.

Patients are struggling to find doctors that will recommend medical marijuana, because less than 1% of the doctors in New York have taken the costly 4.5 hour course on medical cannabis that is required in order to register with the program. In addition, New York law only permits 20 dispensaries, the second lowest number of dispensaries per capita of any medical state. This helps explain why, in a recent survey of patients, 77% reported that they are unable to afford the medicine they need. Finally, the New York program leaves behind the vast majority of patients who could benefit from medical marijuana, including those with chronic pain or PTSD. The health commissioner recently refused to add PTSD despite compelling evidence that medical cannabis can help and has far fewer side effects than the cocktail of drugs usually prescribed.

More work to be done on compliance with 1977 decrim


New York was one of the first states in the nation to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. Unfortunately, in recent years, the “public view” exception to the law has been widely abused by police officers, who have ordered tens of thousands of people, mostly young people of color, to empty their pockets, often as part of an improper “stop and frisk” of people not suspected of any crime. Once the marijuana is in public view, the person can be arrested.

In November 2014, Mayor Bill DeBlasio ordered the New York Police Department to stop arresting people for marijuana possession and instead issue civil citations. Unfortunately, over 16,000 people were still arrested last year for marijuana possession in New York City, and nearly 90% of them were black or Latino. Even more disturbing, arrests for marijuana possession for the first five months of 2016 are up 22% from the same period last year. Several bills were introduced to address this problem, but none passed during the 2016 session.

A more comprehensive fix to New York’s unfair and wasteful marijuana laws would be to legalize marijuana for adults and regulate it like alcohol. Let your legislators know it’s time to stop punishing adults for using a substance that is safer than alcohol.

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