Letter: New York State Should Act Now to Expand Access to Medical Cannabis

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As a doctor who’s been working with cannabis for multiple years, there are two changes to the New York State Medical Marijuana Program that would significantly expand access and help more patients get the medicine they need to improve their quality of life: 1) Eliminating overly-restrictive qualifying conditions and 2) Increasing the number of dispensaries.

Since its launch, New York’s medicinal program has expanded from a handful of serious qualifying medical conditions to also include treatment for PTSD, which has been a great benefit to veterans, and opioid substitution, a treatment to address one of the country’s most serious health issues. As a pain management specialist, I have also seen firsthand how allowing patients suffering from chronic pain to benefit from medical cannabis has drastically changed their quality of life.

However, millions of New Yorkers who could benefit from cannabis therapies are barred from the program because they do not fall into the narrow qualifying categories. Limiting medial cannabis prescriptions to specific categories severely constrain practitioners’ ability to provide the best care and restricts patients’ access to the best available means of managing their symptoms. Prescribing medical cannabis at the practitioner’s discretion also allows treatment to keep pace with the evolving scientific understanding and use of cannabis. Eliminating these strict categories and leaving the recommendation for medical cannabis in the hands of medical professionals on a case-by-case basis will provide the best healthcare for New Yorkers.

Another barrier to access is the number of dispensaries. New York demonstrated exceptional leadership by establishing a strong, well-regulated medical marijuana program, but the program allows for only 40 dispensaries statewide. In a state that is more than 47,000 square miles, that means thousands of patients must travel more than 90 miles to the closest dispensary. Large swaths of the state are without access to medication, which would be easily rectified by allowing additional dispensaries to open throughout the State. It’s not enough to simply create the program—we need to ensure that patients who will benefit from this medication have equitable access, regardless of their zip code.

Others live close enough to a dispensary, but the lack of competition drives higher prices. Introducing additional dispensaries to the States would reduce the cost of medical cannabis for patients.

Currently, there is pending legislation that would eliminate the existing limited qualifying medical conditions in New York State and permit more dispensaries. It is critical that we address these issues now in the current legislative session. People across New York State are depending on this policy change. With it, patients who need these treatments can more easily obtain the relief these medicines can provide for a better quality of life.

—Dr. Grace Forde, MD

Grace Forde, MD, is director of neurological services at North American Partners in Pain Management, Lake Success. Previously Dr. Forde was director of the Headache Clinic at North Shore University Hospital, Syosset. She is the current Secretary of the New York State Pain Society.


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