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New York to Require Training for Medical Marijuana Doctors

In an unusual move, New York state will require any doctor who wants to prescribe medical marijuana to complete an educational course, making New York the first state in the nation to do so. It is interesting to note that New York state physicians are not required to take an educational course before authorizing any other new drugs.

State officials say marijuana drug treatment was not covered in medical school, therefore the course is required to help physicians understand the medicinal complexities of the plant.  The course is not free, the 4 1/2 hour course would coast $250.00, officials say the time spent and cost of the course is modest, cannabis advocates say the time and money might discourage participation in the program, limiting access across the state.

January 1, 2016, marks the date that medical marijuana becomes legal in New York.  In what is considered one of the most restrictive programs in the country, Gov. Andrew Cuomo added the training requirement during negotiations with lawmakers.  “I would have been comfortable without such a requirement,” Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, said. “We generally trust physicians to learn about medications they haven’t prescribed before without special legal requirements. But I don’t see it as a problem and I think it could be helpful.”

“Doctors recommend medications all the time for which they are not required to undergo special training,” said Julie Netherland, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports medical marijuana. “Obviously it is good for doctors to be educated about medical cannabis, but the concern is whether this will serve as a deterrent. How many doctors will choose to go through this training?”

None of the 22 states who offer comprehensive medical marijuana programs charge for training, they offer any physician who seeks information free resources about cannabis. Only one other drug is subject to a similar training requirement – a potent narcotic used to treat opiate addiction – and those rules come from the federal government.

In California and Washington, medical marijuana classes are offered as part of a physician’s normal continuing education requirements.

Under New York’s law, medical marijuana will be made available to patients with certain conditions such as cancer, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and AID’s.  Patients will receive treatment only if they are approved by their physician, currently only one medical provider, A.F. Medical and Rehabilitation of Flatbush, is listed online as willing to write a medical marijuana recommendation, further limiting access to the medicine.  Only tinctures, oils and other non-smokeable forms of cannabis will be available.

According to Craig Blinderman, a physician who directs adult palliative care at Columbia University Medical Center, “The vast majority of doctors are not going to do it until their patients start asking about it,” said Blinderman, who supports medical marijuana. “If you live in upstate New York and there is a handful of doctors, this is going to be an issue. It may have been a little too much to mandate.”  A huge concern is that only the most motivated patients will seek it out.

Only Florida has a provision that comes close to the one in New York.  Florida will require physicians to complete a training course offered by the state’s medical association, once medical marijuana becomes legal in the state. Florida’s program is so constrained that the National Conference of State Legislatures does not include it in its list of the 23 states with comprehensive medical cannabis  laws.



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