Advocates Welcome New York as 23rd Medical Marijuana State but Object to Overly Restrictive Law New York's law receives an "F+" grade in a new report evaluating medical marijuana laws in the U.S. released today

July 07, 2014 | Kris Hermes

Albany, NY -- Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law today that makes New York the 23rd medical marijuana state. Patient advocates celebrated a deal struck last month between Gov. Cuomo and the state legislature that will protect qualified patients from arrest, prosecution, and discrimination, and license up to 20 distribution facilities across the state. However, concerns over some of the law's onerous restrictions have compelled advocates to issue a report evaluating all the current medical marijuana laws in the U.S.

The bill signed into law today empowers the New York State Department of Health (DOH) to license physicians to recommend marijuana to patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, and a limited range of other medical conditions. However, the law only allows for products that use an extracted form of medical marijuana, like oil and edibles, which are to be produced under a state-licensed manufacturing process. Advocates have voiced concerns over the law's 7-percent tax, and a prohibition on access to whole-plant cannabis. Advocates have also raised concerns over the prohibitive cost for many patients who cannot afford to purchase what would otherwise be an inexpensive medicine to grow. The new law gives the DOH 18 months to establish regulations and will sunset in seven years.

To coincide with the passage of New York's law, the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) released "Medical Marijuana Access in the U.S.," a report that evaluates the array of differing laws across the country. The report includes a matrix to easily identify the elements of each law from a patient's perspective. ASA concludes that while many states have important elements helpful to patients, no state has yet established an ideal, comprehensive program, and the recent trend of restrictive medical marijuana laws fails to meet the needs of patients.

Today, there is a patchwork of medical marijuana laws across the United States. Most laws provide patients with protection from both arrest and prosecution. Most incorporate a production and distribution program, and most allow patients and their caregivers to cultivate a certain amount of regulated medical marijuana themselves. While it took a long time for states to recognize the importance of protecting patients from civil discrimination, more laws now include these explicit protections. State governments also began to incorporate product safety and industry standards in the early 2010s.

"Only a minority of states currently include the entire range of protections and rights that should be afforded to patients under the law," reads the report, "with some lagging far behind others." As production and distribution models have been implemented, local governments have found ways to ban such activity, leaving tens of thousands of patients without access. After years of failed implementation, state laws such as those in Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey remain inoperable for all practical purposes.
 
With the recent focus on the medical marijuana compound Cannabidiol (CBD), as a treatment for intractable seizure disorders as well as other conditions, states such as Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin have passed CBD-only laws, most of which continue to criminalize the other therapeutic chemical compounds in the plant and, more importantly, fail to establish a regulatory program for producing, manufacturing, and distributing the cannabis oil to qualified patients. Advocates argue that removing criminal penalties for possession is of little consequence if medical marijuana cannot be lawfully obtained.

The report uses a point system to grade each medical marijuana law on: a) patients' rights and protection from discrimination, b) access to medicine, c) ease of navigation, and d) functionality. Advocates hope that state legislators and regulators will use this report to identify what is working and pinpoint the gaps in service and protections that are important from a patient's standpoint. No state received a grade of "A" for their law, but the four highest-ranking states are California, Maine, Rhode Island, and Washington. The lowest-ranked states are Minnesota, Montana, and New York, as well as the several states that have passed CBD-only laws.

"Patients are advocating for the day when policymakers boast that their state's medical marijuana program will help patients the most, rather than that theirs is the most restrictive in the country," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "This report will hopefully underscore how policymakers can better help the patients they're trying to support." Forty-seven percent of the U.S. population now lives in states that have passed medical marijuana laws.

Letter-grades for all 23 state laws and Washington, D.C.: Alaska (D-), Arizona (C+), California (B-), Colorado (C+), Connecticut (D), Delaware (D), Hawaii (D), Illinois (D), Maine (B), Maryland (D), Massachusetts (C), Michigan (C-), Minnesota (D-), Montana (D), Nevada (C), New Hampshire (D), New Jersey (D-), New Mexico (C), New York (F+), Oregon (C+), Rhode Island (B), Vermont (C), Washington (B-), and the District of Columbia (D).

Further information:
Text of New York medical marijuana law: http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S7923-2013
ASA Report: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/medical_marijuana_access_in_the_usa

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