Medical marijuana improvements in progress, but more can be done

 

Last update: March 17, 2017

 

New York’s medical marijuana program has been roundly criticized for being unduly restrictive and failing to provide meaningful access for patients. Thankfully, the Department of Health has been taking significant steps to address some of the issues, including allowing nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana as of November 2016. Physician’s assistants are allowed to recommend medical cannabis as of March 15, 2017, but their supervising physician must also be registered with the medical marijuana program. Home delivery is now allowed, and medical marijuana businesses will no longer be limited to just five “brands” of medical marijuana.

But, many more improvements can still be made. Numerous bills have been introduced this year, including A 582 and A 4276, which would add additional qualifying conditions; A 6009 and S 1087, which would end the ban on smoking medical cannabis; A 4277, which would recognize patient cards from other states; and A 4560, which would protect patients from employment discrimination.

Finally, the Department of Health announced that it would add chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions, which is particularly important because medical marijuana can help patients reduce their use of dangerous opioids. That will not take effect, however, until a “final rule” is published by the Department. Unfortunately, the proposed regulation (pages 21-22) is unduly restrictive, and MPP as well as hundreds of supporters submitted public comments asking that it be expanded.


Completely decriminalizing marijuana gains governor’s support

 

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 order people, mostly young people of color, to empty their pockets and then arrest them for having marijuana in public view. Over 16,000 people were still arrested for marijuana possession in 2015, and arrests for the first six months of 2016 were up 29% from the same period in 2015.

Several bills have already been introduced to address this issue in some way, including A 678, which simply eliminates the public view loophole. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently expressed his support for fixing this problem when he laid out his 2017 legislative priorities and included a fix in his budget bills. He acknowledged that the collateral consequences of a marijuana arrest can be severe: “Individuals can miss work, be fired, [and] establish a record that prevents them from finding work in the future.”

While this is good news, 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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