Monday in Marijuana: New York Ain't Goin' Nowhere

by / Feb. 9, 2015 11am EST

The medical marijuana program in New York State is poised to become just a nickel-bag version of laws on the books in other states. 

It was clear during the bill’s rocky ride to realization that Governor Andrew Cuomo wasn’t so mellow about passing the law. Now, New Yorker advocates for medical weed are grappling with the implications of a very narrow law that may make the drug inaccessible for folks without means or in remote areas.

The law currently allows for only five different organizations to apply for status as a dispensary, and each of those five organizations can operate only four dispensaries. So New York can have at most, 20 dispensaries; one for every million New Yorkers. If the dispensaries opened according to population distribution—and there’s nothing in the law saying they can’t all be located in the New York metro area—many New Yorkers in the Southern Tier or the Adirondack region would require hours of travel to access a drug legally prescribed to remedy symptoms of serious illnesses.

For the time being, the law applies for sufferers of:

  • cancer

  • positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome

  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • multiple sclerosis

  • damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal  cord  with objective neurological indication or intractable spasticity

  • epilepsy

  • inflammatory bowel disease

  • neuropathies

  • Huntington’s disease

There’s a carve out for the Commissioner of Health to grant exceptions for specific cases, and a proviso that after 18 months, “Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, post-traumatic stress disorder and rheumatoid arthritis” should be considered. 

The public comment period for the so-called Compassionate Care Act law ends on or before February 13, and advocates are lining up in their vocal opposition to the unnecessarily conservative regulations that are slated to define the law.

Another issue that was raised at a community meeting last week in the Bronx was that the registration fee of $50 would further preclude certain folks from participating. Also, New York is not allowing any smoke-able marijuana to be dispensed, having restricted the law to oil “extracts” that can be vaporized or swallowed. The cheapest and most accessible way to consume marijuana is of course the time-honored practice of smoking it.

Additionally, the plan for weed in New York is making it clear that small business need not apply—agencies seeking one of the coveted five licenses must provide a $2 million bond in addition to a $200,000 application fee.

It’s clear to critics of the plan, that marijuana is not being treated seriously for its medicinal qualities, and instead is being offered with a string of impeding caveats and red-tape for people looking for relief that has been scientifically substantiated as perfectly legitimate.

Marijuana users who seek the drug as a medicine may soon simply decide that New York’s medical program isn’t worth it and return simply to their usual haunts on the black market, making the expensive program unprofitable for the registered organizations.

Or they could join hands with the recreational tokers and wait out the legalization process in Vermont, where the state legislature is strongly considering a Colorado-style smoke out.