The State of Medical Marijuana in New York
2020 Grade: C+
2019-2020 Improvements and Recommendations
Lawmakers failing to reach a deal on a full-scale adult-use legislative package acknowledged the shortcomings of the state’s medical system and pledged to work on system improvements in 2020, leaving the state’s system largely as is. The state did approve legislation in 2020 that makes possession of marijuana a violation punishable by a fine of no more than $50. The bill also eliminates a provision for a repeat offender that previously would have subjected possession law violators to a fine of up to $250 and 15 days in jail. Finally, the measure requires that past arrest records for possession of cannabis be expunged or destroyed, and prohibits those records from use to deny employment.
The Empire State organized specific medical cannabis provisions in the state’s response to COVID, which included maintaining operations of licensed medical cannabis businesses, provision of pre ordering and curbside pickup and delivery, and permission for patients to utilize telehealth for physician evaluations related to state program enrollment.
In 2014, the New York Assembly passed S7923, which created legal protections for patients and caregivers and authorized the Department of Health to license and regulate “registered organizations” to cultivate and sell medical cannabis to patients. Upon receiving written certification from their physician under the law, patients must obtain a registration identification card. The law also requires physicians to complete educational requirements and state the “dosage” patients should use, which then is used to determine the amount that constitutes a 30-day supply of medicine that the patient may possess. The law forbids the smoking of cannabis but does not explicitly ban patients from access to cannabis in its dried flower form.
The Department of Health granted five storefront medical retail licenses in July 2015, and began issuing patient ID cards in December 2015. In January 2016, dispensaries began serving medical cannabis patients. Also in 2016, the Department added chronic pain as a qualifying condition and updated the regulations to allow nurse practitioners to recommend medical cannabis, home delivery, and registered organizations to sell “wholesale” products to other registered organizations to prevent shortages. The program was improved again in 2017 with the addition of PTSD and chronic pain as eligible medical cannabis conditions, and authorization of more registered organizations, while the diversity of cannabis products available to patients for treatment also increased.
In 2019, New York authorized medical cannabis access for patients with any condition for which an opioid would have been prescribed, including acute pain management, and specifically authorized medical cannabis access for opioid use disorder. Most of the 2019 legislative session on cannabis was dedicated to the consideration of adult-use legislation, though a lack of consensus on the package of reforms forced lawmakers to abandon the effort until 2020. Lawmakers settled on a bill that decriminalized cannabis use and allowed for expungements of many previous cannabis offenses.
As lawmakers look to 2021 ASA recommends focusing efforts on fixing major challenges to its medical cannabis program. Specifically ASA encourages authorizing patients to have access to cannabis flower, as well as grow medical cannabis, and work with authorized cultivators, manufacturers and retailers to produce and sell a greater variety of cannabis products specifically designed for treatment of patients. The state also needs to improve medical cannabis product testing and labeling standards to keep patients safe, and convey important information about plant compounds and terpenes contained in medical cannabis products. Finally ASA recommends permanently maintaining the state’s cannabis-related emergency measures.
Surveyed patients report that there is better selection of processed products this year in their dispensaries. However, there is still no flower available and prices are very high. Some low-income, surveyed patients report being unable to pay for doctor recommendations or renew their medical cards. For this reason, they hope that self cultivation will be an option in the future. Surveyed patients would also like to see pre-ordering, curbside pickup, delivery, and use of telemedicine for patient evaluations maintained in the future.