166 Patients: New York's Medical Marijuana programs proves a tough sell

At first, there were 71 patients. New York is home to nearly 20 million people. If you do the math you’ll reach a nearly invisible number, a tiny decimal of a percent with little statistical significance sans to infuriate those who need access to medical marijuana.


In 2014, the vote was cast and medical marijuana was prepped for legalization in New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill last June. Under state law, medical marijuana is now legal in New York.


Entering 2016, very little has been done to make this medicine accessible to patients. For those suffering from various ailments in New York, patience is needed. For the fortress-like medical marijuana dispensary in Manhattan, patients are needed.


In the last week, the number of approved patients in New York has more than doubled. According to NBC New York, more than165 patients are approved for medical marijuana. Over 225 doctors have taken the state-required training to prescribe medical marijuana. Despite this recent increase, the number of approved patients is still significantly lower than many other states that have legalized medical marijuana.


Although the number of patients is increasing (it may have doubled to more than three hundred since NBC’s report; statistics pending), New York’s slow start is troubling.


Vice News spoke with Keith Stroup, founder of the National Order for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). He believes New York’s current laws regarding medical marijuana are constricted.


"State legislators tend to think that getting high is something to be avoided," Stroup said to Vice News. "And they're trying to avoid the appearance of someone enjoying themselves when they were meant to be taking their medicine… They don't want to see it turning into another California, where anyone can get a prescription."


New York’s limited acceptance of medical marijuana has the potential to create a dangerous precedent for states that have not yet legalized medical marijuana. New York exerts a significant level of influence across the country. Implementing a stringent medical marijuana policy could be viewed as a condemnation of the states that have already legalized medical marijuana for patients.

Comparatively, New York only eclipses a single state when examining the number of medical marijuana patients: Delaware. And before this week, that wasn’t even true. According to ProCon.Org, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Vermont, Rhode Island, and Alaska all have significantly smaller populations and less approved medical marijuana patients than New York.


The current situation looks a little like this:


New York is one of the only states to require physician training for medical marijuana. Approved doctors aren’t listed accessibly for patients, so word of mouth is the most effective way to find a doctor who is eligible to prescribe medical marijuana. Smoking marijuana is still illegal, only medicinal capsules and tinctures are approved for use. Chronic pain without a secondary diagnosis doesn’t qualify patients for medical marijuana. There are eight dispensaries spread across the state, with plans for an additional twelve in the works.


And that’s it. New York law will only permit 20 dispensaries within the entire state, one for every 2,700 sq. miles.


Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, noted that the legalization of medical marijuana led to a decline in opiate-related overdoses. Many of these overdoses stem from people experiencing chronic pain.


She told Vice News: “There are 6,000 rare diseases that exist in the world, and innumerable things that can cause serious pain. Prescribing opiates to treat pain can be risky. There are 16,000 fatal overdoses from opiates every year."


The exact list of “severe debilitating or life threatening conditions” includes cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, intractable spasticity from spinal cord damage, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, nerve damage, and Huntington's disease. State officials are still discussing whether or not to approve Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, PTSD, and rheumatoid arthritis.


Interestingly, the proposed tinctures and cannabis pills often have higher levels of THC than traditional dried buds. Extracts are pure and only contain the medicinal areas of the plant, which means the sharp increase in the psychoactive THC content of medicinals may prove challenging for those who have smoked to ease their pain before legalization.


The evidence doesn’t look good. Some might theorize that New York has only legalized medical marijuana to dissuade the use of illegal cannabis, while making it virtually impossible for the sick to gain access. Others might view it as a mean game, an “I told you so” from the heart of the nation meant to mark a decline in the marijuana renaissance changing the foundation of our nation.  While others will calmly note that these things take time and thank the leaders of New York for getting the ball rolling.  Regardless of the true intent, one thing is certain:


"It does give [New York lawmakers] an opportunity to experience the reality that medical marijuana helps a lot of seriously ill patients," Stroup said. "Once they see that it's not a scam or a trick to legalize it for the rest of us, maybe they'll come back in a year or two and improve on it. "As weak as the law is," he added, "it's still a significant step forward."


The New York State website is publishing any official updates on the state of affairs regarding medical marijuana in New York.


2 Reviews
Kat Rae Kat Rae
Denver, CO

Interesting - I learned something new about the Cannabis Laws and how they vary from other States.

January 2018

Did you find this review helpful?

Zach Leete
Tampa, FL
Informative Read!

New York's current policy sounds utterly ridiculous. Solid article and very informative. I love Vice News! Cool lede as well.

January 2016

Did you find this review helpful?