Medical marijuana improvements in progress, but more can be done by the legislature


Last update: January 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 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.

But, more needs to be done by the legislature. Several bills, A 582, S 1087, and S 1088, have already been introduced to add dysmenorrhea as a qualifying condition, lift the ban on smoking medical marijuana, and lift some restrictions on medical marijuana businesses. More bills will likely be introduced this session.

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. Unfortunately, the proposed regulation is unduly restrictive. You can click here to see the proposed regulation (pages 21-22) and find instructions for submitting your comments, which are due by February 3, 2017.

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. 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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