This piece first appeared in Cannabis Now.
With only a couple of weeks remaining before New York’s ultra-restrictive medical marijuana program is scheduled to launch, the state felt it was time to finally publish a means for potentially hundreds of thousands of sick people to register their intent to purchase cannabis products.
Last Wednesday, the state’s Health Department, which has dragged their feet throughout the entire process of developing this limited program, managed to get it together long enough to publish the enrollment criteria for New York patients suffering from “severe, debilitating or life-threatening” conditions.
Essentially, patients with conditions ranging from cancer to Huntington’s disease must first get their hands on a certification from a physician that has registered with the state and completed its 4-hour online training course. Once a certification has been obtained, patients will then need to apply online through the Health Department for permission to participate. A $50 application fee may be billed to patients unless they are able to prove financial hardship, according to the website.
“The launch of the state’s Medical Marijuana Patient Certification and Registration System marks the achievement of another milestone toward providing relief to all New Yorkers who may benefit from medical marijuana,” Dr. Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, said in a statement.
Although a spokesperson for the Health Department told Metro back in November that “the state’s medical marijuana program remains on track for full implementation in two months,” there’s still a wealth of other issues at hand that could cripple the program before it ever has a chance to get off the ground.
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns surrounding medical marijuana in New York is that there will not be many doctors available to provide recommendations. Last year, at a Manhattan Chamber of Commerce meeting, State Senator Diane Savino, who played an influential role in the passing of the Compassionate Care Act, told those in attendance that one of her greatest fears was that there would not be enough physicians trained to service patients in need.
“We don’t have a single trained physician,” said Savino. “They are the gatekeepers of all of this.”
The lawmaker’s concerns were compounded exponentially after a poll taken over the summer of 500 New York doctors found that only one physician planned to get involved in the business of medical marijuana. Most of the physicians surveyed, however, said that their intentions to not provide medical marijuana recommendations had more to do with conflicting state and federal law than their personal feelings on the therapeutic benefits of the plant.
It was not until the end of October that the state finally introduced the required training program for physicians wanting to begin certifying medical marijuana patients. Yet, it remained uncertain just how many would step up and get involved. Since then, the Health Department has refused to divulge any pertinent information regarding how many doctors it has registered, only saying that “practitioner education is an ongoing process with doctors continually signing up for and receiving training.”
What makes the issue of physician registration even more challenging is the fact that many healthcare professionals, like general practitioners, which are most likely to fall in line with the state’s rule of having a “bonafide” patient/doctor relationship, are not able to issue recommendations simply because the qualified conditions included in the state’s program are mostly handled by specialists. The majority of the medical marijuana recommendations will need to come from professionals like infectious disease doctors, oncologists, and neurologists, not those who see patients on a daily basis for common ailments.
According to MarijuanaDoctors.com, there are only three physicians registered in the entire state of New York willing to provide patients with the appropriate certification: One in Brooklyn, another in Manhattan, and a third in Elmhurst. [Update: As of January 4th, 2015, there are now four registered physicians.]
New York’s 20 medical marijuana dispensaries will reportedly open their doors January 2016.
Do you live in New York and need medical marijuana? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below.
Mike Adams is a contributing writer for Cannabis Now. You can follow him on Twitter @adamssoup.