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Politico NY – State to allow medical marijuana for chronic pain

By Josefa Velasquez, 12/1/16

ALBANY — Chronic pain will soon be added to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, the state’s Department of Health announced Thursday.

“After conducting a thorough review of the scientific literature, it became clear that there may be certain benefits in the use of medical marijuana by patients suffering from chronic pain,” said Health Commissioner Howard Zucker. “Medical marijuana is already helping thousands of patients across New York State, and adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition will help more patients and further strengthen the program.

DOH will develop a proposed regulatory amendment that will include specific language specifying the chronic pain conditions that would qualify for medical marijuana. The language of the proposed amendment was not immediately available.

The announcements come as the Cuomo administration looks to overhaul the fledgling program, which has struggled to enroll sufficient numbers of patients amid stringent restrictions on the drug.

Late last month, the department announced that nurse practitioners would soon be eligible to register with the DOH to certify severely ill patients for medical marijuana. Physicians assistants, as long as the supervising physician is also registered with the state to certify patients, will also be eligible to give patients the approval for medical marijuana.

Adding chronic pain as a qualifier for medical marijuana has the potential to add thousands of people to the program, which could help to stabilize the program.

As of late last month, 750 physicians registered for the medical marijuana program and 10,730 patients were certified by their doctor.

 The so-called Compassionate Care Act was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 and was launched in January. Individuals who suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and seizures are eligible to obtain the drug.

But patients, and potential patients, have long complained that the state’s program, billed as the most restrictive in the nation, is too narrowly tailored.

The five registered organizations who were awarded the right to grow and dispense non-combustible forms of medical marijuana joined together in May to lobby for changes to the law.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news for New Yorkers suffering from chronic pain,” said Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Vireo Health of New York, one of the state’s medical marijuana companies. “Patients struggling with pain deserve more treatment options and it is our hope that medical marijuana will help address one of the biggest public health challenges facing our State – the opioid crisis.”

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. The organizations have lobbied DOH and lawmakers to allow home delivery for medical marijuana, which DOH said it is reviewing.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, one of the architects of the 2014 legislation, said that expanding who can certify patients and adding chronic pain will “will help thousands of New Yorkers ease their suffering with an alternative to opioid drugs, which are dangerous, addictive, and have serious side effects.”