Updated on June 28, 2021.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The New York State Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, has introduced many changes to the state’s medical marijuana program that are important steps forward in the evolution of the program. If these new regulations are an accurate indication, Zucker intends to grow the medical marijuana program in New York to make more forms of healing cannabis available to patients and streamline the dispensary process.
A statement released by the Department of Health also pointed to their desire to welcome more practitioners into the program with additional training courses.
New Marijuana Regulations
New York drafted new regulations to their medical marijuana program over the summer and published the proposed regulations at the end of August for a 30-day comment period. Many of the changes went into effect at the end of September, including:
Increased Access for Assisted Living Facilities: Hospitals, assisted living facilities and nursing homes can now obtain medical cannabis for patients and residents. The facilities that decide to join the program would be considered “caregivers,” and can only give marijuana to patients who have already qualified for the program. Prior to this, patients and residents could only access medical cannabis if their caregivers could pick up the medication and deliver it to them. Other facilities that qualify to become caregivers include mental health facilities, adult homes, community mental health residences and residential treatment facilities for children and youth.
Dispensary Improvements: Changing regulations to the medical marijuana program in New York aim to address some access issues. Dispensary rules are very restrictive about who can enter the dispensary to be sure only legal participants in the medical marijuana program can purchase cannabis products. The regulations are now opening dispensaries to prospective patients and practitioners, as well. Those considering joining the program may visit a licensed dispensary to learn more about the products and their potential health benefits.
Expanded Variety of Medical Marijuana Products: Topical products are being added to the list of approved cannabis products in New York, as well. Lotions, patches and ointments can legally be manufactured and distributed under the medical marijuana program. Certain oral delivery methods are also now on the approved list, including chewable tablets, lozenges and effervescent tabs. New York is also adding some types of ground plant material, although products for smoking are still restricted.
Improved Training for Medical Practitioners: New York state requires doctors to be certified in the medical marijuana program before they can recommend cannabis treatment to their patients. Medical practitioners are also responsible for qualifying patients. Changes to the regulations will make the certifying process a little easier for medical practitioners who qualify. Previously, doctors were required to take a four-hour training course to learn about using marijuana medicinally. The Department of Health is now working with the trainers to cut the course back to two hours, making it commensurate with other medical training courses.
New Licensed Manufacturers: Under New York medical marijuana law, companies must be licensed to manufacture and distribute cannabis products. This is the only legal means of growing cannabis and producing medicine from it in New York. From the beginning of the program, the state has strictly limited the number of licenses it issues for manufacturers. Part of the new regulations includes the issuance of five more manufacturing and distribution licenses, which will double the number of marijuana producers in the state.
Some claim the medical marijuana program in New York is struggling to survive and thrive. With more than 19 million residents in the state, the number of people registered for the program — just over 26,000 — indicates many patients are missing out on this opportunity for relief. Estimates show that more than one million New Yorkers have had cancer, which is just one disease that presents a pool of people who may need the benefits of medical marijuana.
It is clear from these regulation changes that the state is attempting to grow the medical marijuana program and make is accessible to more patients. Increasing production and the number of medical practitioners should be a good start.
Who Will Benefit?
The medical marijuana program in New York continues to grow and expand, increasing benefits for patients. The program was put in place to bring healing medicines to patients, especially those suffering from debilitating conditions who can’t find comfort or relief through other treatment methods. As the program grows, more people can access the cannabis medicine they need.
The state is also loosening regulations for practitioners to become certified in an effort to entice more doctors to participate. More than 1100 practitioners are currently certified to recommend cannabis treatment, but more are needed to manage marijuana care for the growing numbers of patients who qualify.
Since prospective patients will now be able to enter dispensaries before they qualify for the program, access to dispensary staff will increase their knowledge about how cannabis products may relieve their specific symptoms. Once they learn of the possibilities for relief, patients will be more likely to seek out a doctor who can qualify them for the medical marijuana program. Knowing they have options gives patients hope.
Patients who are extremely debilitated may still find it difficult to interact with dispensary staff, learn more about their product options and purchase the marijuana their doctor recommends. Until now, only qualified medical marijuana patients and their caregivers were admitted to licensed dispensaries. The new regulations make it possible for someone other than the designated caregiver to accompany a patient to the dispensary, as well. So, patients who need help getting around will find it more convenient to get the medicine they need.
Qualifying for New York’s Medical Marijuana Program
New York Department of Health administers the medical marijuana program and continues to track patients, providers and producers. To qualify for the program, you need to schedule an appointment with a marijuana doctor certified by the state to recommend cannabis treatment for qualifying conditions.
If you’re suffering from a debilitating condition, use our website to find a licensed, cannabis-friendly doctor near you. You may also get information about the program from a licensed dispensary in your area.
At MarijuanaDoctors.com, we also offer an online search feature to help you find licensed dispensaries in New York. We’ve already gathered information about hours, location and typical appointment costs to make it easier for you to get the medicine you need. Browse our site for updated information about the medical marijuana program in your state.