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State of Politics: Gottfried Bills Would Expand Medical Marijuana Program

Story posted by Dan Clark, Time Warner Cable State of Politics, 3/11/16

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried has introduced four bills to expand on the current medical marijuana program in New York.

Since the program became operational in January, the Department of Health says 1,565 patients have been certified by the 455 physicians who are registered to prescribe the medication. Five companies have been approved to produce and sell medical marijuana across the state.

Gottfried’s bills, introduced this week, would change the regulations of the program with a goal of reducing the cost of the program while improving treatment and accessibility to the drug.

The first would remove the limit of how many companies could produce and sell the drug. Companies would also be allowed to contract work out to ease the burden of production and distribution.

Companies must currently produce the drug in their own facilities, then ship it using their own vehicles to their own dispensaries. This bill would allow producers to contract those shipping services.

The bill would also allow producers to collaborate and contract with each other to provide better accessibility to different strains of the drug.

The second bill in the set would allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe medical marijuana. Under current law, only licensed (and registered) physicians are allowed to prescribe the drug. When it was passed in 2014, the law also allowed the Health Commissioner to include nurse practitioners in the program, but Gottfried says the department has not chosen to do so.

The third bill would expand on the current list of conditions where medical marijuana is allowed to be prescribed. The program currently limits treatment to a list of conditions found on their website. The Department of Health does have the authority to add conditions to that list.

This bill would allow the drug to be prescribed to treat severe or chronic pain, regardless of the diagnosed condition. That would open the program to patients that may be suffering from long-term pain associated with a condition that has not been approved by the Department of Health.

The fourth bill would allow patients to smoke the drug, in addition to using oil from the medical cannabis plant. The form of the drug was a point of contention in the initial debate over medical marijuana. Governor Cuomo was against making the drug available to smoke at the time, but advocates have said smoking the drug would make it easier for them to regulate their dose.

Gottfried was also a proponent of an expedited medical marijuana program during last year’s legislative session. A bill was passed that would have created a program ahead of the January start date, but it never came to fruition.

*We traveled to Minnesota in August to compare their medical marijuana program to New York’s. Check out our series here.