Since the introduction of the medical marijuana program in New York a year ago, it has been the subject of constant criticism for being severely restrictive – both in the conditions that will qualify and also for the nature of the products it allows. Since New York has had a very short list of 10 conditions that qualify, few locations for thousands all over the state and doesn’t allow for the use of raw cannabis flower, the price of the medicine and the trouble obtaining it has made it far from successful so far.
“Improving patient access to medical marijuana continues to be one of our top priorities, as it has been since the launch of the program,” Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement. “These key enhancements further that goal.”
However, they have made a few improvements that will likely bring in more patients, which should effectively drive down the cost of the medicine over time. The Department of Health mentioned back in December that they were considering adding chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions. And now, beginning next week, patients suffering from chronic pain will be able to access medical cannabis – with “chronic pain” defined as pain that has lasted, or is expected to last, three months or longer and for which other methods of management have been ineffective.
This should significantly add to the number of patients who both qualify and register for the medical marijuana program in New York. The list of qualifying conditions now includes chronic pain, cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, MS, spinal damage, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and Huntington’s disease. Prior to the addition of chronic pain, the number of registered patients was only 14,437 – in one of the most populated states in the entire country.
“Will chronic pain put us in the black? I don’t know,” said Hoffnung, of manufacturers in New York. “But it has the potential to alleviate pain for thousands of New Yorkers who suffer from chronic pain.”
In addition to adding another qualifying condition, the Department of Health also decided to allow physician’s assistants to recommend medical marijuana – as long as their overseeing physician is already registered to do so. This, plus the recent addition of allowing nurse practitioners to recommend it as well, should make it easier for patients to find a healthcare professional who will be willing to give them the recommendation they need without all the hassle of trying to find one of the few registered physicians in the state.
All these changes are definitely going to be helpful in making New York’s medical marijuana program both more accessible and hopefully more affordable for patients. From the start it has been a rocky road for New York, who is trying to ensure that there is no way medical and recreational marijuana use can be confused in their state by allowing only very specific conditions and very few choices on how to medicate. But it seems they are coming to the realization that the restrictions they set forth had set them up for failure and they are taking steps to correct that for both the patients and the state. For now, these small additions, as slow as they may be coming, are at least making some much needed improvements.