New York’s medical marijuana program has been highly criticized as being the most restrictive in the nation. That could soon change.
The New York State Department of Health announced on Wednesday that it would register five more companies to serve medical marijuana patients throughout the state.
Currently, New York only has five companies, operating a total of 20 dispensaries, throughout the state’s nearly 55,000 square miles. Adding five more would double New York’s capacity to serve patients, many of whom live far from the small handful of dispensaries.
The initial five companies, called “registered organizations,” were selected by the Department of Health in 2015 according to various scored criteria. The competition was tough: 43 companies had applied for the five vertically integrated licenses to grow, manufacture, and dispense medical marijuana in New York State. Now the state’s Health Department has contacted the next five highest-scoring organizations, including Citiva Medical LLC and Fiorello Pharmaceuticals LLC.
Since its inception, New York’s medical marijuana program had undergone a number of challenges as lawmakers ironed out regulations and companies prepared to launch their businesses. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act into law July 7, 2014 — after the bill had been pending the state legislature for nearly 20 years. The program then officially launched in January 2016.
Within the first six months of operation, more than 5,000 patients registered with the state to receive medical marijuana. The program was and remains berated, however, for being too restrictive. At its onset, patients could register only if they suffered from one of ten qualifying conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy, or AIDS. Only recently did the Health Department add chronic pain to the list of conditions, which greatly expanded access to suffering patients. The program has also registered more than 600 doctors, who can recommend medical marijuana after completing an online training course.
New York’s program also bans smoking and edibles. A limited number of “brands,” or manufactured cannabinoid formulations with varying ratios of THC to CBD, are available in capsule, oil, vaporizable, and other approved forms.
Now, over a year into its launch, 867 practitioners and 14,045 patients have signed onto the medical marijuana program.
“I don’t think a lack of dispensaries is what’s hindering patient growth, I think it’s a lack of doctors and overall awareness,” Scott Giannotti, founder of the New York-based Cannabis and Hemp Association and managing director of Cannabis World Congress and Business, tells Jane Street. Expanding the program is a positive thing, especially when doing so allows it to cover more territory geographically, he says. “A lot of these patients have terminal conditions and can’t travel far distances.” Five more companies is just enough, he says, given that the program has still relatively few patients involved in it.
“You’ll be amazed at how many people still don’t know New York has a medical marijuana program,” says Giannotti. “What needs to change are the restrictions around advertising. This is a legal, state-run business.”