New York is improving its medical program


Last update: December 13, 2016


New York’s medical marijuana program has been roundly criticized for being unduly restrictive and failing to provide meaningful access for patients. And, numerous bills to improve the program died in the Health Committee of the state Senate in 2016. Thankfully, the Department of Health has been taking significant steps to address some of the issues with the program.

In December 2016, the Department announced that it plans to 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. Other reforms include allowing nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana as of November 2016. Physician’s assistants are in the process of being added through the regulatory process. Home delivery is now allowed, and medical marijuana businesses will no longer be limited to just five “brands” of medical marijuana and will be able to sell products to one another. This should result in a larger selection of medicine to meet patients’ needs.

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 order 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 is 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 over 90% of them were people of color. Even more disturbing, arrests for marijuana possession for the first six months of 2016 were up 29% 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. This would also reduce prices and improve access for patients in the medical program. Let your legislators know it’s time to stop punishing adults for using a substance that is safer than alcohol.

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