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Setbacks Continue for New York

In spite of several setbacks, New York’s five licensed medical-marijuana companies insist they will have the majority of their combined 20 dispensaries open by mid-January’s launch date. Patient advocates and state politicians, however, aren’t so sure.

If the dispensaries open on schedule, patient advocates are worried that the medicinal plant will not make its way to patients who desperately need it. According to them, New York state has not done enough to get doctors invested in recommending patients for cannabis licenses.

The New York state Health Department will not reveal the doctors or how many doctors who have signed up for the required four-hour course to dispense medical marijuana licenses, said State Senator Diane Savino. “Doctors are naturally very conservative. They’re afraid they’re going to get sued for malpractice,” said Savino.

“Practitioner education is an ongoing process with doctors continually signing up for and receiving training,” the Health Department said in a statement.

At a recent marijuana conference in Albany sponsored by the Cannabis and Hemp Association, attendance by physicians was limited. According to Julie Netherland, deputy director of the New York Drug Policy Alliance, “outreach to doctors has been hampered by a lack of resources and state support.”

Another concern is the possibility of high costs because doctors and patients have been given no clarification from the state, which will set rates based on marijuana companies’ production costs.

“We don’t want to see a two-tiered system, where affluent New Yorkers are able to purchase high-quality, regulated marijuana without risk, and lower-income New Yorkers have to buy illegally or not at all,” said Netherland.

Advocates are concerned that the product will carry a high price tag. Demand from registered patients will be low at the beginning of the program, but production costs are high. Medical insurance does not cover cannabis.

Unlike other states with highly regulated medical cannabis programs, New York is the only state that will engage in price-setting.

The N.Y. Health Department said it is still in the process of setting prices based on companies’ requests, and said it will consider any financial assistance programs they propose.

Patients and cannabis companies should work together to reform the New York law, urged Netherland. “It’s very clear that what’s going to be good for patients is a strong, robust industry in New York,” she said.

Savino added that industry representatives were largely absent from the cannabis lawmaking process, which might have benefited from their involvement

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