Pubdate: Sat, 21 Jan 2017
Source: Journal News, The (NY)
Copyright: 2017 The Gannett Company, Inc.


[photo] Kate Hintz of North Salem, with her daughter, Morgan Jones,
diagnosed with Dravet syndrome. Hintz, director of Compassionate Care New
York, says the state must expand access with more dispensaries.(Photo:
COURTESY/Jennifer Tonetti Spellman.)

The problems with New York's medical marijuana program are well documented.

From the day the Compassionate Care Act was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo,
patient advocates knew that the law -- a compromise born of a nearly 20
year struggle -- was seriously flawed.

Those flaws are numerous, and they all work against patients: a very
limited number of eligible conditions, restricting patient certification
only to physicians, severely restricting the number of producers and
dispensaries, limiting to five the number of products a company could
sell, and prohibiting forms of the medicine that have proved popular and
effective in other states.

Patients knew this wasn't going to work, and we were right.

Ever since the program started patient advocates have lobbied the
Legislature, the governor, and the Department of Health to fix this broken
system. Our allies in the Legislature introduced bills to fix the
problems. But patient advocates and those legislators were told to wait:
the program was "too new" to make changes and we needed to be patient.

Thankfully, after months of inaction, the Department of Health finally
issued a report on the medical marijuana program that confirmed many (but
not all) of the problems we identified. To their credit, they have moved
forward to implement them.

Among a list of sensible improvements, they allowed physician assistants
and nurse practitioners to certify patients, lifted the restriction on how
many products a company can produce, allowed home delivery, and added
chronic pain to the list of eligible conditions.

One of the most important recommendations is a plan in the coming year to
license five more organizations. And in so doing, add 20 additional
dispensaries across the state.

When you consider that New York's law only authorized 20 dispensaries to
serve 19.8 million people -- one for every 990,000 New Yorkers -- this is
a very reasonable proposal.

Even with this proposed expansion, New York is still vastly underserved
compared to other states.

For example, Maryland -- with a state population half a million less than
that of Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan -- just authorized, as a first
step, 102 dispensaries to serve their 5.9 million residents.

To serve the 6.4 million New Yorkers living in Brooklyn, Queens, and
Manhattan, the Department of Health licensed just three dispensaries --
and only two of them are open.

While patient advocates applaud the Department's very modest expansion of
producers and dispensaries, the existing licensed providers have begun a
public campaign against it.

While their objection is not surprising from a business perspective --
after all, what company granted a state-authorized monopoly would
encourage allowing more competitors into the market -- it is essential
that the governor and the Department of Health resist their
self-interested rationale.

Experience around the country -- and basic economic principles -- teaches
us that competition is the consumer's (and patient's) best friend. It
enhances the variety and quality of products available, makes accessing
them easier, and drives down prices as competitors compete for market

Expanding providers in New York's medical marijuana market would be a huge
benefit to patients. And that is the sole purpose of this program: to
provide compassion and relief to sick and suffering patients.

Currently patients are driving hours to get to the closest dispensary
location, or illegally buying medicine in another state because New York's
companies don't produce what they need. Adding insult to injury, prices
here are higher than anywhere else in the country. New York's medical
marijuana market is sorely in need of expansion.

New Yorkers want our medical marijuana program to be the best in the
country. We want all the medical marijuana producers to succeed by making
quality products, being accessible to patients, and charging a fair price.
Patients won't be served unless these companies succeed.

But a market controlled by a chosen few doesn't serve patients.

A license to produce medical marijuana isn't a right; it's a privilege.

Medical marijuana patients from across the state applaud the Department of
Health and Governor Cuomo for finally responding to our pleas for help.
They now need to move quickly, without delay, to bring more competition to
New York's medical marijuana marketplace.

Only then will patients in New York finally have access to the safe,
quality, and affordable medicine they need.

The writer is director of Compassionate Care New York, a statewide
coalition of patients, parents, medical professionals, clergy, and other
advocates for medical marijuana patients.
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