On Wednesday, the New York State Assembly took an earnest attempt at providing a comprehensive medical cannabis program to patients in the Empire State by passing A 7347 by the wide margin of 90-50. While the legislation is now up to the Senate, it seems all but certain the Senate will fail to bring the bill to a vote. That's a shame, because while A 7347 is not perfect, it would create a comprehensive system that deserves a second look, both by New York senators and patients.
Patient Protections and "Reasonable" Flexibility
Mid-Atlantic legislatures which passed medical cannabis legislation (NJ, DC, DE) felt that it was prudent to come up with restrictive rules and strictly-limited qualifying conditions. This deference to regulation at the expense of wellness has hurt patients greatly. In the time since each of the bills passed, not a single patient in any of these locations has safe and legal access to medical cannabis.
The New York law, by contrast, has built-in mechanisms that would provide concrete legal protections and encourage the state to quickly move to implement the registration and access system. The law would allow patients who obtain written certification from their medical practitioner to have full protection from arrest if the state is not issuing registration cards within one year of the law's effective date. Even better for patients, once the state begins accepting registration applications, patients possessing a valid certification who do not wish to enroll in the registry are still eligible for an affirmative defense. The law also would provide explicit protection against patient discrimination pertaining to child custody, education, organ transplant, and landlord/tenant matters - issues which we've seen confront patients in states like California.
Beyond these important patient protections, A 7347 also grants the Department of Health (DOH) discretionary ability to avoid unjust outcomes with certain aspects of the bill. Lawmakers resisted the urge to play doctor by determining from afar who can and can't obtain medicine; instead, they have provided guidance for doctors. In another example of flexibility, the law calls for all registered caregivers to be over the age of 21, however if a "sufficient showing is made to the department that [a person under 21] should be permitted to serve as a designated caregiver," the DOH may do so. For a sick elderly person who is being taken care of by a college-age family member or for parent who is under 21 and needs to care for their seriously ill young child, this provision could make a major difference.
Good, But Not Perfect
For all the wonderful clauses in A 7347, there are still some parts that run counter to safe access. The registry system has some privacy protections, but law enforcement could potentially have the ability to harass patients, much like we have seen in Michigan. The requirement that each medical cannabis purchase made must be recorded with the patient or caregiver's name is a threat to the privacy and security of patient confidentiality. The bill's provision to tax the gross receipts of medical cannabis sales at the excessive rate of 7.1% could make it difficult for dispensaries to establish themselves, meaning patients would not only have to pay unnecessarily exorbitant prices for medicine, but also may be forced to deal with an inconsistent supply as result of the instability.
Patients in NY should urge Senate Health Committee Chairperson Kemp Hannon and other committee members to take the steps necessary to bring the senate version of the bill, SB 7283, up for a vote before the full senate.
Mike Liszewski is ASA's Policy Director.