Top Tags

Journal-News: NY moves to expand medical marijuana products

By Lindsay Riback, 12/9/16

ALBANY – The state is poised to lift restrictions on medical marijuana growers that currently limit the number of products they can carry and prevent them from selling wholesale products to each other.

The state Department of Health announced this week that it will lift a regulation that limited the state’s five licensed medical marijuana companies to carrying only five products each, a limitation patient advocates had long been critical off.

The state agency also said it will begin accepting plans from the companies to sell their products wholesale to other registered organizations, which is expected to increase the variety of products available at dispensaries across the state.

“These are major steps forward for New York’s Medical Marijuana Program and the thousands of patients who are benefiting from it every day,” state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement.

The announcement Thursday came a week after the Health Department announced it would be expanding the medical marijuana program to include individuals with chronic pain among those eligible to receive medical marijuana.

The department has also moved forward with plans to allow nurse practitioners to certify patients for marijuana use.

On Thursday, the state proposed a definition for “chronic pain,” limiting it to “any severe debilitating pain that the practitioner determines degrades health and functional capability” with a variety of caveats and requirements.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, who sponsored the state’s medical-marijuana bill signed by Cuomo in 2013, praised the Health Department’s latest plan.

“Expanding the list of eligible conditions to include chronic pain will help thousands of New Yorkers ease their suffering with an alternative to drugs, such as opioids, which can be dangerous, addictive, and have serious side effect,” Gottfried said in a statement.

Despite the changes, some remain unsure what effect this will have on the five companies producing medical marijuana products in New York.

Each of the five licensed companies are legally allowed to maintain five dispensaries. The state is in the process of expanding the number of companies.

Ari Hoffnung, CEO of medical marijuana company Vireo Health of NY, said he fully embraces the DOH’s  “common-sense, patient-friendly regulatory changes.” But it is too early to tell what effect the changes will have for the companies.

“We are probably using about 5 percent of our capacity and have invested millions and millions of dollars to build state of the art facilities to produce these medicines that are safe and are produced in accordance with New York state law,” said Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Vireo Health of NY. “There’s really not the issue of supply, there’s really an issue of demand.”

Vireo Health has dispensaries in Queens, White Plains, Albany and Binghamton. The company manufactures oils, vapors and capsules, which are each available for purchase through the program.

The state’s medical-marijuana law only allows non-smokeable forms of the drug.