Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his office will sign off on all 12 recommendations made by the Department of Health in its recent two-year report evaluating the rollout and current status of New York’s medical marijuana program. Patients and advocates across the state welcomed this development, as many of these recommendations to enhance and expand all aspects of the Compassionate Care Act are the same goals advocates have been working toward since the program regulations were announced.
The Department of Health’s 12 recommendations—which include home delivery, allowing nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana, and increasing the brands and forms available—will significantly expand patient access and eliminate unnecessary restrictions that have hindered the program since January. By taking these steps, New York State is moving closer to achieving a program that truly puts patients first.
“Advocates should be proud of the impact their voices made with the administration,” said Kate Hintz, a representative of the patient advocacy group Compassionate Care NY.
In July 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act into law, enacting a medical marijuana program for New York State. Patients and advocates celebrated this momentous step as an opening that provided hope for a better quality of life and healthier future.
However, roughly one year later, more than 100 pages of regulations were introduced, shaping New York’s medical marijuana program into one of the most restrictive in the U.S. When the program opened to the public in January 2016, it was clear that far too many New Yorkers would not be able to access the treatment they had waited so long to receive. The stringent regulations introduced significantly impacted the patients’ process of finding a physician, accessing a dispensary, and strictly capped the selection of medications available.
Patients from across the state stepped forward to describe the complicated system that chronically ill patients had to navigate in order to obtain a registration card—and far too many sick patients were simply left behind because their diagnosis did not make the list of 10 conditions approved by the Health Commissioner. Advocates also learned that families were forced to drive for hours to visit the closest dispensary, just to learn that only one or two products were available.
Consequently, New Yorkers spoke up. Advocates from all counties across the state made their voices heard by meeting with their local elected officials, traveling to Albany to participate in lobby days, and speaking to media organizations with detailed descriptions of the complex and disappointing system unfolding before them. Supporters of the program introduced legislation during the 2016 session intending to address some of these problems, which the recommendations adopted by the Cuomo administration also seek to address.
“We look forward to the rapid implementation of the Department of Health recommendations and push the Health Commissioner and Governor Cuomo to continue to work with advocates and patients to keep building a stronger medical marijuana program for New York State,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We hope that by incorporating these additional changes it will make the program as comprehensive and effective as possible.”