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WHEC Rochester (VIDEO): Health dept. issues recommendations to fix state’s flawed rollout of medical marijuana

By Amanda Ciavarri, 8/23/16 – video in link

New York State’s rollout of its medical marijuana program has been far from smooth.

Patients have told News10NBC they have had problems including finding specific medications they need and simply finding a doctor that is permitted to prescribe the drug.

Now, a new report from the state health department aims to fix these issues. The 13-page report from the state Department of Health has a number of recommendations including adding an additional five growers in the next two years, increasing the number of brands allowed in the state and allowing medical staff at schools to administer medical marijuana.

“My first reaction is, well, it is about time,” says Christine Emerson. “And they are all of the recommendations that they initially took out.”

Emerson’s daughter Julia has epilepsy and needs medical marijuana to help reduce her seizures.

“When I have a seizure my whole body shakes,” says Julia Emerson.

Christine Emerson has been pushing for access to medical marijuana for years, even after it was legalized. She wants to see the program available to more people who need it. For her, Tuesday’s report is a step in the right direction.

“I think patients will have more accessibility,” says Christine Emerson.

For the last year we have been pushing to try and find out exactly how many doctors in New York are certified. We finally got those numbers: Only 639 out of 90,000 doctors in the Empire State, less than one percent, are certified. In the Rochester area, there are only 26 doctors.

The recommendations also include making a public list of doctors certified to prescribe marijuana. Point blank: many patients say something has to be done. The problem is so bad that the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester says some patients are actually getting marijuana illegally just to ease symptoms, because the system is so behind.

According to the Department of Health’s report, through June 15, New York was averaging fewer than 2,500 medical marijuana purchases per month. Something that many people feel is putting the entire program in jeopardy of failing.

“I am extremely worried about the program in New York,” says Christine Emerson. “There aren’t a lot of physicians, there aren’t a ton of patients and for a cost point it is extremely expensive. Our out of pocket is $1,000 per month.”

Assemblyman Dick Gottfried sponsored the medical marijuana bill back in 2014 and says these recommendations don’t go far enough to help the program.

“Why are they making the recommendation?” asks Gottfried. “This is the health department making recommendation to itself. Why isn’t the department announcing they are taking these actions?”

We reached out to the Department of Health and were told within the next two weeks they will be releasing information on the next steps for the medical marijuana program.