STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The first order of business for New York’s Cannabis Control Board (CCB) was to make smokeable medical marijuana legal.
The CCB — a five-member panel charged with approving the comprehensive regulatory framework for the state’s cannabis industry — made the announcement Tuesday at its first meeting.
The board, which had its final appointments by Gov. Kathy Hochul last month, will oversee licensing of cannabis businesses and the approval of various actions taken by the Office of Cannabis Management.
Effective immediately, dispensaries are permitted to sell flower marijuana products to patients participating in the medical cannabis program. Previously only edibles and extracts were permitted.
Sen. Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn), a long-time proponent of legalizing cannabis, called it a “major improvement to the program” but said it’s something that should have been permitted from the beginning.
“Patients have complained over and over again that they were sometimes forced to go into the illegal market where it was cheaper to be able to purchase flower because what they were being offered at the dispensary wasn’t providing the kind of relief they wanted or it was too expensive [at a dispensary],” Savino told the Advance/SILive.com.
Adding to the frustration, Savino said, is that not only is cannabis flower allowed to be smoked anywhere that tobacco smoking is permitted, but the flower was produced in a cultivation house regulated and licensed by the state, processed in a facility in the state, and tested in a lab licensed by the state.
“It made no sense whatsoever,” she said.
EXPANSION OF PRACTITIONERS ALLOWED TO PRESCRIBE CANNABIS
Another major change to the program allows all practitioners and healthcare providers in the state who are allowed to prescribe controlled substance can now prescribe cannabis to eligible patients.
The following conditions would make a person eligible under the state’s medical cannabis program: chronic pain, cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and Huntington’s disease.
Prior to Tuesday’s announcement only certain providers — just 3,367 statewide — were given permission to prescribe cannabis. Currently, there are 151,070 certified medical cannabis patients in New York State.
Savino said many practitioners have expressed interest in the medical cannabis program, but were excluded. She believes the number of practitioners involved in the program will increase – partially because they are now allowed to prescribe cannabis, and partially because the $50 fee for the mandatory training course has been waived.
“Allowing physicians and healthcare providers to recommend patients and keeping the government out of that decision is far more important. It makes no sense that a podiatrist could write a prescription for OxyContin but he [couldn’t] participate in medical cannabis. A podiatrist would catch diabetic neuropathy before any other doctor would, so what sense did it make to prevent them to participate?” she asked.
“If you ask your doctor and they don’t want to participate then you should go find a new doctor,” Savino said, adding that her office will keep a list of all providers who are participating in the program.
ONE STEP CLOSER TO ADULT-USE CANNABIS
The changes to the medical cannabis program are a key step towards the state implementing its adult-use program.
Gov. Kathy Hochul previously said that one of her “top priorities” since replacing former-Gov. Andrew Cuomo was to get the state’s cannabis industry up and running.
Set up by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Office of Cannabis Management cannot set guidelines or issue licenses necessary for residents to distribute, process, farm and open dispensaries and consumption locations until the 13-member board has been filled.
The biggest challenge in developing the adult-use program, Savino said, will be developing the social equity model that is not corporately structured – something she says no state has been able to do.
Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, those seeking to open a cannabis business are not able to apply for traditional loans, which are regulated by the federal government.
“The solution lies in Washington,” she said.
“If they’re not prepared to make changes to the Banking Act to take the pressure off of marijuana companies so that they can have access to capital credit the traditional way, or to be able to have access to traditional lending sources and [handle taxes] in a sane way then we will have the same problem that every other state has,” she continued.
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