New York has three months left until it’s medical marijuana program is supposed to be fully operational. Several of those who were awarded the license to grow and distribute medical cannabis still have not finalized locations for their dispensaries, it is still unclear whether the dispensaries will be open and fully operational by January, as Governor Andrew Cuomo promised.
Patients across the state could be left without access to medical marijuana, five of the 20 state approved locations have yet to be finalized with local governing bodies standing in the way. New York’s program, already one of the most restrictive in the country, had patient advocates concerned because the program was already too limited to address the states needs. “The failure of any of them to open changes the game in terms of access just because there are so few,” said Julie Netherland, the deputy state director with the Drug Policy Alliance.
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act in 2014, at the time he said the program would be one of the most regulated in the nation, he also said it would be operational 18 months from the signing, faster than most others states to be fully operational. Medical Marijuana advocates, expressed their concern that certain provisions in the legislation were too restrictive, and how the state would choose the five companies who would grow the drug.
Four of the five companies who received licenses are facing opposition to their dispensaries, running into a “not in by backyard” problem. If the dispensaries are not able to open in time, patients across the state face the possibility of having no access, and face long travel times to get their medicine. When choosing the licensees, New York state’s health department emphasized the importance of geographic diversity, realizing that some patients might be too ill to travel long distances.
One community board located in Elmhurst, Queens, where there will be an Empire State Solutions dispensary, said they fully expect community members to oppose a dispensary in their neighborhood. “We have been in touch with the appropriate zoning and city officials regarding our Elmhurst dispensary,” Kyle Kingsley, the CEO of Empire State Health Solutions, said. “We are continuing our discussions with community and business leaders and are happy to address any potential questions. We are confident that once residents understand exactly what a medical marijuana dispensary is, we will be a welcome addition to the community.”
In The Bronx, a local community board has requested PharmaCann to find a new location for their dispensary, noting that the facility is in a remote area of the neighborhood that was not easily accessible by public transportation.
On Long Island, the town of North Hempstead denied that proposed dispensary, which was located less than one mile from a Catholic School. Colette Bellefleur, the chief operating officer at Bloomfield Industries, said she still hopes to convince North Hempstead officials that a dispensary won’t harm their community. “We haven’t had an opportunity to take the time to really educate the town officials about what this about,” she said. “This is about getting medicine to sick people.”
When asked it she thought her Nassau County dispensary would be open by January, she replied, “I really can’t answer that question.”
Urban areas across the state have dispensaries, and in some cases more than one, while the Adirondacks and North Country share on dispensary in Plattsburgh. It remains to be seen if the dispensaries will finish construction in time to meet the deadline for the launch in January.
Last week, the state announced a four-hour course that providers must take before they can prescribe medical marijuana but there is still no system to certify patients, a requirement of the law. The price of medical marijuana has not yet been determined, and the five manufacturers have no way of knowing how many patients they will have. As of now they are estimating the amount of medicine they need to manufacture, not the best way to run a business.
“If the system were open to more providers – as the Legislature wanted – then the delays of a couple of providers would not have as much of an impact on patients,” said state Assembly Health Committee chair Richard Gottfried, who sponsored the law. “Pharmacies in our neighborhoods sell candy and toys in the front, and morphine, hydrocodone and syringes in the back, and many have bright signage. Dispensaries will have none of that – almost no signage, and nothing but medicine being sold to a small number of state-registered seriously ill patients.”
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