Medical Marijuana

Savino: Not Enough Patients In Med Mar Program

Staten Island Sen. Diane Savino is pushing New York to open more dispensaries for medical marijuana and reach out to doctors to prescribed medically based cannabis in order to boost demand.

“Right now we don’t have enough patients for the existing license holders that we have,” she said in an interview. “We have an excess product. We don’t have excess patients. We still need to build the patient base, we need to engage more doctors.”

Savino raised the issue on Thursday in the joint legislative health budget hearing in Albany, telling Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top health officials she is opposed to granting more licenses to manufacture medical marijuana. Instead, she wants the state to grant licenses for opening dispensaries in different areas.

The current law as written doesn’t allow for that.

New York over the last year has sought to expand its fledgling medical marijuana program by allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistance to participate and expanded the number of illnesses to qualify for the drug.

“It’s a very successful program and even across the country people have said it’s a very successful program,” said Health Commissioner Howard Zucker after his testimony. “We are growing it slowly. We are growing it aggressively, but we are growing it slowly.”

Zucker acknowledged, however, there is room to expand access for patients.

“The issue really is here is we have gaps in the state and we need to identify those — where people don’t have as much access and we are working on that,” he said.

DOH Adds Chronic Pain To Med Mar Program

New York’s medical marijuana program will now cover chronic pain as a qualifying condition, the Department of Health on Thursday announced in what is the most significant expansion of the program since its creation.

“After conducting a thorough review of the scientific literature, it became clear that there may be certain benefits in the use of medical marijuana by patients suffering from chronic pain,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker. “Medical marijuana is already helping thousands of patients across New York State, and adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition will help more patients and further strengthen the program.”

The DOH is developing regulatory guidelines for adding chronic pain, including language that will outline conditions that qualify for medically based cannabis.

The move is expected to aid medical marijuana manufacturing companies that have seen relatively slow growth since the program began in New York in 2015.

Previously state officials had outlined guidelines for medical marijuana that limited prescriptions to patients with terminal illnesses, but had never closed the door to an expansion.

The addition of chronic pain to its qualification list comes as state health officials have also moved to allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners to certify patients for medical marijuana.

The nurse practitioner regulation took effect today, while the PA regulations are to be finalized in the next 45 days.

Med Mar Supporters See Hope In Recreational Use Approval

Boosters of the state’s fledgling medical marijuana industry are optimistic the business could grow in New York after nearby states approved recreational use laws last Tuesday.

“It really exemplifies the fact that 80 percent of the public support medicinal cannabis and even a majority of people support a recreational law,” said Kyle Kingsley, the CEO of Vireo Health, whose company is one of five that operate in the state’s medical marijuana program, in an interview on Capital Tonight. “I think it’s going to help with the stigma in New York.”

At the same time, Kingsley is also optimistic the incoming administration of Donald Trump will not hamper medical marijuana programs in states like New York.

Watch the full interview here.

Vireo Says Google Has Rejected Two More Medical Marijuana Ads

Medical marijuana producer Vireo Health on Tuesday said Google had rejected two more advertisements after the company pushed to have its ads included with the search engine.

Vireo last week wrote to Google’s co-founders raising concerns with the company rejecting ads that use the words “medical marijuana” or “medical cannabis” based on its AdWords policy.

“We are shocked and dismayed that Google chose to retaliate instead of engaging in a constructive dialogue,” said Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Vireo Health of New York. We continue to call on Google to stay true to their ‘do no evil’ corporate values and lift those restrictions preventing us from freely communicating with New Yorkers suffering from life-threatening and debilitating conditions like cancer, ALS and HIV/AIDS.”

Vireo insist that because it’s a medical-based business, Google would not be violating its policy by allowing the company to advertise through its search engine.

Vireo officials said on Tuesday they’ve sought to have Google company representatives discuss the situation, but the company is yet to respond to those entreaties.

Medical Marijuana Company Says Google Rejecting Ads

One of the state’s five medical marijuana providers this week sent a letter to Google co-founders protesting Internet company’s rejection of ads advertising their business.

Vireo Health of New York says Google has rejected ads with the words “medical cannabis” and “medical marijuana.”

In rejecting the ads, Google has told the company it does not allow “the promotion of substances that alter mental state for the purpose of recreation” in its advertising.

“We are confident that our advertisements comply with Google’s policy,” wrote company CEO Ari Hoffnung in a letter to Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin on March 15, 2016. “Our products are sold strictly and exclusively for medicinal purposes and in conformance with New York State law.”

Vireo in the letter insisted the company’s rejection of the ads is a misapplication of its policy, and potentially conflicts with antitrust laws.

“It is difficult to understand or justify a policy that will impede a patient’s ability to access information about products that have been approved by the New York State legislature and have been identified as therapeutically beneficial,” Hoffnung wrote in the letter.

“These patients and their caregivers need access to this information, and if Google continues to deny this access, it is clearly contradicting one of its core values.”

Vireo Health of New York Letter to Google – Final by Nick Reisman

Savino Bills Would Expand Medical Marijuana Access

Sen. Diane Savino on Thursday introduced a new package of measures that would expand access to state’s medical marijuana program and make it easier for doctors and other medical professionals to treat an expanded roster of patients.

New York’s medical marijuana program started at the beginning of this year, and the tightly regulated program has only a handful of serious illnesses for patients that qualify for a cannabis-based prescription.

“I made history by passing the first medical marijuana program in New York – and have been proud to lead on this issue as we implement the program throughout the state,” Savino said in a statement.

“However, it is not enough to make this medicine theoretically available, it must also be pragmatically accessible. Now is the time to take this program further – and that’s exactly what this package will do. With my new legislation, we will be able to help patients in need become certified more easily, ensure that more of those suffering are eligible to become certified, allow each doctor to treat their patients as they see fit, and make this necessary medicine accessible to more people throughout the state.”

Savino, a Staten Island lawmaker, wants to double the number of dispensaries allowed under the current law in New York. The current program allows for each of the five licensed medical marijuana companies to have four dispensaries, but that has left some areas in the state without access to a nearby facility to access the prescription.

At the same time, the bill would allow for direct marketing and education campaigns from companies that grow and manufacture medical-grade cannabis to a doctor. Companies would be able to approach doctors directly in order to provide information on medical marijuana and encourage them to become trained and licensed in the state’s program.

Meanwhile, another measure would increase the number of illnesses that would be applicable to a medical marijuana prescription: PTSD, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, wasting syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Savino also wants to have the Department of Health add nurses and physician assistants to the list of those who are qualified to certify patients for medical marijuana use, a bill that’s aimed at expanding access and the available providers. Savino notes these medical professional are already able to prescribe other controlled substances under the law, but the medical marijuana program only allows doctors to certify patients.

Finally, Savino wants to form a 15-member advisory panel that would be charged with assisting in the program’s regulatory development by the DOH — a nod to what has been a complex implementation process for the medical marijuana program.

Gottfried Bills Would Expand Medical Marijuana Program

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried has introduced four bills to expand on the current medical marijuana program in New York.

Since the program became operational in January, the Department of Health says 1,565 patients have been certified by the 455 physicians who are registered to prescribe the medication. Five companies have been approved to produce and sell medical marijuana across the state.

Gottfried’s bills, introduced this week, would change the regulations of the program with a goal of reducing the cost of the program while improving treatment and accessibility to the drug.

The first would remove the limit of how many companies could produce and sell the drug. Companies would also be allowed to contract work out to ease the burden of production and distribution.

Companies must currently produce the drug in their own facilities, then ship it using their own vehicles to their own dispensaries. This bill would allow producers to contract those shipping services.

The bill would also allow producers to collaborate and contract with each other to provide better accessibility to different strains of the drug.

The second bill in the set would allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe medical marijuana. Under current law, only licensed (and registered) physicians are allowed to prescribe the drug. When it was passed in 2014, the law also allowed the Health Commissioner to include nurse practitioners in the program, but Gottfried says the department has not chosen to do so.

The third bill would expand on the current list of conditions where medical marijuana is allowed to be prescribed. The program currently limits treatment to a list of conditions found on their website. The Department of Health does have the authority to add conditions to that list.

This bill would allow the drug to be prescribed to treat severe or chronic pain, regardless of the diagnosed condition. That would open the program to patients that may be suffering from long-term pain associated with a condition that has not been approved by the Department of Health.

The fourth bill would allow patients to smoke the drug, in addition to using oil from the medical cannabis plant. The form of the drug was a point of contention in the initial debate over medical marijuana. Governor Cuomo was against making the drug available to smoke at the time, but advocates have said smoking the drug would make it easier for them to regulate their dose.

Gottfried was also a proponent of an expedited medical marijuana program during last year’s legislative session. A bill was passed that would have created a program ahead of the January start date, but it never came to fruition.

*We traveled to Minnesota in August to compare their medical marijuana program to New York’s. Check out our series here.

Medical Marijuana Program To Launch With 8 Dispensaries

The state’s medical marijuana program will launch “as scheduled” on Thursday, but with only 8 of the 20 dispensaries, the state Department of Health announced on Tuesday.

Some of the companies that have received the five licenses from the state grow, manufacture and dispense have run into permitting issues with the dispensaries, which are scattered in different geographical areas of the state.

The dispensaries that will be operating on Thursday are in Onondaga, Erie, Albany, Ulster and Westchester Counties, and in Manhattan, the DOH said.

The Department of Health added in its released that the additional dispensaries will be opened on a “rolling basis” in locations across New York in January.

Officials, as well as medical marijuana companies, expect the growth of the program to be relatively slow. Medical marijuana will be available to patients with chronic diseases including cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis as well as severe forms of epilepsy.

Patient Registration For Medical Marijuana Begins


The state Department of Health on Wednesday unveiled an online registration system for patients seeking to qualify for the state’s medical marijuana program.

The program is due to become active next month, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation earlier in the year creating an expedited system.

Before patients can register online, they must first be certified by a physician who has been authorized to operate in the medical marijuana program. Doctors must have taken an online course and registered with the state in order to prescribed medical marijuana.

After online registration is completed, patients will then receive a registry identification card in the mail, which must be shown when purchasing medical marijuana at dispensing facility.

New York’s medical marijuana program is limited to a small number of illnesses, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s as well as severe epilepsy, among others.

The medical marijuana program includes five companies growing, manufacturing and dispensing prescription medical marijuana in the state. It’s expected that given the small patient pool, registration for the program will be relatively small in the beginning.

Also: Re-watch our four-part series on the state’s medical marijuana program, The Growing Economy.

Medical Marijuana Company Announces First Harvest

kingsleyWith more than a month to go before New York’s medical marijuana program is due to come on line, Vireo Health in Fulton County harvested their first batch of a medical grade version of the plant.

“Today’s a momentous day for the patients of New York. We’re very excited to be actively participating in the first harvest in probably a century, the first legal harvest in about a century in New York,” said Kyle Kingsley, the CEO of Verio Health, who provided a media tour of the facility on Thursday.

The plants are being grown at a converted grow facility at the former Tryon Juvenile Detention Center, an infamous state camp that closed in 2010.

Local officials in Fulton County have sought to transform into a business incubator site.

Company officials at Vireo, one of the five that were selected to grow and dispense medical marijuana come 2016, expect the program will be a small one in the beginning, given the pool of qualifying patients is relatively small.

They will eventually converted into medicine that is either ingested through an oil or in pill form. It will only be available to patients with severe illnesses such as cancer and epilepsy.

“I’m not sure how much we’ll have,” Kingsley said, “but I’m confident we’ll be able to cover all the patients who are registered in New York right away.”

The question remains how many patients will be prescribed the drug, which won’t be covered by insurance. Meanwhile Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought to allay concerns the program won’t be up and running by the start of the new year, signing a bill that would create an expedited emergency program.

Kingsley doesn’t expect the emergency program will impact his business.

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