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Politico NY: Licensed marijuana growers to lobby for expanded patient eligibility

By Josefa Velasquez, Politico NY, May 18

ALBANY — The five companies awarded licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana in New York have joined forces to lobby lawmakers for changes to the state’s Compassionate Care Act.

“We’re going around giving an update to the program [and] sharing some of our impressions and talking about ways that we think the program can be improved,” said Ari Hoffnung, chief executive officer of Vireo Health, one of the five companies that have formed the Medical Cannabis Industry Association.

The four others are PharmaCann, Etain, Columbia Care and Bloomfield Industries.

One of the changes to the law the group will lobby for is to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify seriously ill patients to be eligible for medical marijuana. As it’s written, the law only allows physicians to certify patients.

Both state Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, the architects of the Compassionate Care Act, are already sponsoring legislation that would expand who can certify patients for the program.

In an interview with POLITICO New York in March, Savino said nurse practitioners, who are the primary care providers for many individuals, have largely been more open to the idea of prescribing medical marijuana than physicians, who have been more conservative about the drug.

Patient access to the drug, which has so far been the biggest criticism of medical marijuana advocates, has plagued the state’s program, which was implemented in January. The current law allows for five organizations to have four dispensaries each, leaving large geographic areas of the state without a facility in the region.

On the “regulatory front,” Hoffnung said he would like to see the registered organizations be able to deliver marijuana to people’s homes.

Savino and Gottfried are already sponsoring legislation that would allow each of the five registered organizations to double the number of dispensaries they are allowed.

Advocates also argue that the list of physicians certified to prescribe the drug be made public so patients have better access.

As of May 9, 564 physicians had registered for the program and 3,549 patients had been certified by their doctors, according to the state Department of Health.

While the number of certified patients has grown since January, more can be done to expand the program, Hoffnung said.

“It’s headed in the right direction. But we think that with some legislative changes we can really expand the program more rapidly,” he said. ”Improving patient access is a priority for us. We think that can be done by expanding the qualifying conditions so patients can get it.

The state’s program, billed as the most restrictive in the nation, allows for individuals suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and seizures to be eligible to obtain the drug.

Hoffnung said his group would like to see conditions like chronic pain, post traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer’s disease included in the qualifying medical condition list. The proposal from Savino and Gottfried would include those conditions as well as several others.

Hoffnung said representatives from the newly formed group have been in Albany to lobby lawmakers. While each organization has its own lobbyist, the group plans to file as a lobbying organization in the coming days, a spokesman for Vireo said.