Updated on January 25, 2019.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
New York patients new to medical marijuana might be surprised to find it operates on a different system from traditional medicine. To fill a New York marijuana recommendation, you must go through a different process than you would to fill a typical prescription. No worries — there are only a few different steps to take to get the medication you need.
Terms You Should Know When Filling a Recommendation
First things first — what do all the specific terms used by medical cannabis professionals and patients mean? Why do we use the terms “recommendation” and “dispensary” instead of “prescription” and “pharmacy?” A lot of the differences have to do with the split between federal and state cannabis laws in the United States. Since marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, we can’t use the same terms we use for federally approved prescription medication.
A recommendation is the medical cannabis equivalent of a prescription. If a doctor or dispensary you visit uses the term “prescription” instead of “recommendation,” you may want to double check their legitimacy. After all, doctors can’t legally prescribe medical cannabis — they can only recommend it.
Dispensaries work as the cannabis medicine version of pharmacies — you visit them to receive medication. New York’s state government closely regulates dispensaries and their licenses. When the state medical marijuana program started, only five companies could open dispensaries, and they only began to add five more in August 2017. Dispensaries can only sell medical marijuana and not any other kind of medicine.
Finding the Perfect Dispensary
The only way to legally obtain medical marijuana in New York is to use a recommendation and buy your weed from a dispensary. While some states let patients grow their own plants to use as medicine, New York requires patients to go through a state-licensed dispensary. So, it’s important for patients to pick a good dispensary to get their cannabis medicine from.
Why Should I Worry About Dispensary Choice?
Although New York doesn’t exactly have the best access to cannabis medicine in the United States, you should still stick to only authorized dispensaries that suit your needs. There are many good reasons to carefully vet your potential dispensaries:
To Maintain Compliance With the Law: As an authorized medical marijuana patient, you must follow the rules set by the state. Even with a medical marijuana card, you have laws to abide by to ensure your compliance and safety. An important part of following medicinal cannabis laws is getting your medicine from a legitimate source.
To Guarantee High-Quality Medicine: The medicine sold at licensed dispensaries goes through intensive quality testing. While illegitimate sources could give you medication with contaminants in it, the medicine sold at dispensaries are safe to use.
To Get the Best Strains: Different dispensaries sell different formulas. Each dispensary sells medicine brands that contain different ratios of cannabinoids. While they must have at least two certain formulations, the rest of the menu depends on the dispensary.
To Get the Best Menu Options: They also provide different kinds of products. While dispensaries usually have the same variety of products, not every medication type has the formula you need.
Different Areas, Different Access
Unfortunately, finding any dispensary near you can be easier said than done if you live in a rural area. At the time of writing, New York dispensaries typically operate in cities like New York City, Albany and Buffalo. Whether it’s due to political differences, income levels or availability of cannabis-friendly doctors, rural areas don’t have nearly as many dispensaries as cities.
Although New York lets dispensaries deliver medicine to patients, delivery services only operate in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. With the addition of five more licensed dispensary companies in the near future, hopefully access will expand for all New Yorkers. But, it’s hard to tell whether the newcomers will open in rural locations or stick to the cities.
How to Tell if a Dispensary Is Legitimate
The state only allows five — and soon, 10 — companies to operate dispensaries in New York. So, you can easily determine a dispensary’s legality by the company that runs it. At the time of writing, New York authorizes the following organizations:
Thanks to recent legislation changes, even patients and doctors without medical marijuana certifications can ask for a dispensary tour. Visiting a prospective dispensary before choosing it as your primary shop can help you see what the patient experience there looks like. Plus, you can see the exact products that they sell and ask questions about them.
What to Bring on Your First Trip
Most dispensaries in New York have some rules to follow when you visit for the first time. For example, many of them either strongly suggest or require making an appointment for your visit. And every dispensary needs you to bring along the following documents:
A state-issued New York ID card or driver’s license
A medical marijuana card
A recommendation from your doctor
When in doubt, contact the dispensary before your first visit as a patient. Making sure that you have everything you need saves time and effort for both you and the dispensary!
More Resources From MarijuanaDoctors.com
Did this blog post pique your curiosity? You can learn a lot about medical marijuana in New York. Patients hungry for knowledge like you can take advantage of the numerous resources we provide, such as:
New York Doctor Database: Need a medical marijuana card? These doctors are happy to lend a hand.
New York Medical Marijuana: Learn how to qualify for medical marijuana in New York and the rules for their medicinal cannabis program.
Medical Marijuana Educational Resources: We can teach you about the science, history and regulations surrounding cannabis medicine.
Medicinal Cannabis News and Blog: Stay up to date with the world of medical marijuana and get answers to common patient questions. Our blog provides updates on changes in state legislation, including New York.