State Estimates Half of Eligible Patients Received Medical Marijuana
ALBANY — Nearly three months into the launch of the state's medical marijuana program, the Cuomo administration estimates that roughly half of the patients deemed eligible have received the drug, a Department of Health spokesman told POLITICO New York.
The so-called Compassionate Care Act kicked off in early January with several dispensaries not opening in time for the launch date. But the registered organizations charged with growing and selling medical marijuana say they were expecting the trickle of customers to start, rather than a flood, and that they are now seeing an increasing number of patients.
Since early January, the state estimates 2,039 patients have been certified by their doctors to be eligible for medical marijuana. About 1,000 of those patients, according to the Department of Health, have obtained the drug.
But even as the access seems to improve for those who qualify for the program, advocates, as well as the lawmakers who sponsored the initial medical marijuana legislation, continue to argue patients struggle unnecessarily to find doctors who can prescribe the drug.
How Many Physicians Have Registered To New York's Medical Cannabis Program?
As of last Tuesday, 471 physicians have registered for the state’s medical marijuana program, billed by the state as the most restrictive such program in the nation and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July 2014.
Doctors who opt not to take the online certification course required to prescribe marijuana can refer patients to another physician who may be able to certify the patient if they have a serious health condition, like cancer, HIV/AIDS or forms of epilepsy. Physicians and nurse practitioners have access to an online portal, the state’s Health Commerce System, where a list of physicians eligible to prescribe marijuana are listed.
Rachel Schepart, the general manager of PharmaCann in Amherst — one of the registered organizations that grow and sell marijuana — told POLITICO New York more physicians in the region are now prescribing the drug.
“Some of those barriers to patients have come down a bit,” she said in a phone interview last week.
She declined to say how many people have been administered the drug by PharmaCann, saying the information was “health care protected.”
Etain, another registered organization, estimates it has administered the drug to roughly 100 to 125 people, spokesman Steve Stallmer said. The most common issue keeping those numbers from growing, he said, was that prospective patients haven’t been able to find a doctor.
As POLITICO New York reported earlier this month, State Sen. Diane Savino is introducing legislation that aims to better educate doctors on the use of medical marijuana, similar to how representatives for pharmaceutical companies showcase their product to physicians.
Etain’s dispensary in Kingston has been the most successful of the company's branches, Stallmer said, noting the location is close to the relatively liberal cities of Woodstock and New Paltz. The company's Syracuse location, he added, is receiving patients from as far west as Buffalo.
Advocacy groups maintain that the state’s program, which calls for 20 dispensaries statewide, isn’t sufficient and creates large geographical gaps. That, coupled with the fact that not all the dispensaries are running, has created concern over patient access.
To address that concern, the Democratic-dominated Assembly's one-house budget resolution called for doubling the number of dispensaries a registered organization could have from four to eight. The chamber's proposal would also require the state health commissioner to double — from five to 10 — the number of registered organizations by Jan. 1, 2017.
Etain’s final dispensary in Yonkers is set to open by the end of this week, as is PharmaCann’s Bronx location, spokespeople said.
Bloomfield Industries’ final Manhattan location is set to open by the end of April, COO Colette Bellefleur said in an emailed statement. She declined to say how many patients have been administered the drug by the company, saying that the company has seen a “steady stream of patients and continue to take appointments to accommodate patients who are traveling to our locations.”
“We are producing medicine to meet the needs of our current patients and are in the process of rolling out two new products and additional ratios as our analytics lab is coming fully on-line and our grow is reaching optimum maturity,” she added.
Ari Hoffnug, the CEO of Vireo Health, said the company was "working diligently" to open its Albany dispensary and that the number of patients being served is "steadily increasing."
Efforts to reach Columbia Care, which has all of its four dispensaries up and running, were unsuccessful.
Read the article on Politico New York