New York: Group Wants NYC To Set Up Its Own Medical Marijuana Program

DanaBeal[KatherineCaulderwood-TheVillageVoice]

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A group of patients who are disappointed with the much criticized, heavily regulated medical marijuana program and its glacial pace in New York state has drafted a bill to make medicinal cannabis more accessible in New York City.

The group's proposed legislation, which responds to the state's Compassionate Care Act, establishes a "medical marihuana users' bill of rights" and asks the New York City Council to support creation of a "users cooperative," reports Madison Margolin at The Village Voice.

Longtime marijuana activist Dana Beal, one of about 10 contributors ot the bill, said the group hopes to establish a five-borough patients' cooperative "for people with serious maladies, including ones that aren't on the state list."

"The law and the regulations don't cover people who are [also] legitimate patients," Beal said. "We believe that under home rule, we can extend better availability and better prices to more people."

New York's Compassionate Care Act, signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in July 2014, is scheduled to take effect in January. Many have criticized it for being among the most restrictive, and least patient-friendly, in the country. The law doesn't allow for any smoking of marijuana, nor the use of any cannabis flowers, nor the use of infused edibles, but only allows oils, concentrates, dissolvable strips, patches, and tinctures.

The law allows just five companies to grow marijuana and operate 20 dispensaries in the state. Each can grow only five particular strains of cannabis, with prices set by the health department.

The program covers only 10 "severe, debilitating, or life-threatening" conditions such as AIDS, epilepsy, and cancer, but leaves out conditions like glaucoma and PTSD, which are allowed for medical marijuana treatment in other states.

New York's medical marijuana program benefits little more than the five companies that were selected to receive cannabis growing licenses, according to Beal. "[Legalizing medical marijuana] was advertised as a chance for five companies to get really rich," Beal said. "That's not the spirit we were doing it in before."

The proposal asks the New York City Department of Health to help make medicinal cannabis more accessible and affordable by supporting an "accredited users cooperative" to "lower prices, achieve free prices for low-income users, and/or buy products from the growth cooperative." It plans for the cooperative to grow marijuana on property granted by the city.

"City sponsorship in the form of vacant buildings or lots to grow is one of the major ways to cut costs," Beal said. The target price mentioned in the preface of the bill is one dollar a gram, "But no one will complain if it's a little bit more."

The group is also asking the city health department to approve smoking as a method of medicinal cannabis administration.

Patients and advocates upstate are also trying to expand the Compassionate Care Act and make it more workable. The Buffalo Medical Cannabis Act would expand the number of ailments covered by the act, and allow cultivation of medical cannabis in western New York.

"If there's two cities, we have a much better chance of getting it through," Beal said. "That another city is contemplating doing the same thing strengthens our position as far as getting state authorization for a city to do that.

Photo of Dana Beal (seated): Katherine Caulderwood/The Village Voice