A full 18 months after legalizing medical cannabis, the state of NY finally allows medical marijuana dispensaries to open their doors. beginning January 7. Patients rejoice. Let the shopping begin!
Not so fast.
Here’s what you need to know.
The dispensaries licensed for business are few and far between. As of mid-January, 2016, there are only 8. Eight. Depending on where you are, in the empire state of 55,000 square miles, prepare for a long drive. More are planned for 2016, twelve more, but don’t expect one to appear at the end of the block.
Becoming an actual patient will be difficult. Unlike other states, severe migraines will not qualify you, neither severe menstrual cramping, nor anxiety, nor clinical depression, nor many other conditions that medical cannabis is known to alleviate. Instead, you’ll need to be more at the terminally-ill or incurable-disease end of the spectrum. So far, less-than 300 patients have been approved for medical cannabis in New York (as of January 21 2016). If you plan on making the approved list, don’t bother showing up without having Cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), Epilepsy, Intractable Bowel Syndrome, or Multiple Sclerosis.
And, if you're in the unfortunate position of having one of such conditions you’ll need to be seen, and specially approved, by a qualified state physician. This is not your family doctor – only 265 physicians have so far been given the credential to evaluate. Once seen, and given the certification by a physician, you are then able to register for a card. Yes. That’s right. You’ve come this far and you still have to register with the state before being cleared and given a card.
Oh, and just to be absolutely sure you’re not going to abuse your medical cannabis privilege, you’ll not be able to smoke it. New York requires that all medical cannabis product be a drinkable solution, an oil suitable for vaporizing, a tincture, or in capsule form.
If all this seems overly restrictive and harsh, then you’d be right. It is. It’s symptomatic of the fear, uncertainty and doubt that conservative lawmakers still abide.
It’s all a bit of shame really. It’s a shame because New York could set a precedent for other states that are wavering on their decision-making. It’s a surprise because, for so many other reasons, we consider New York to be progressive.
I expect, as time goes by, these harsh restrictions and unreasonable qualifications will relax and be modified. Until then, if you’re a New Yorker, keep your eye on this space and whenever you have the opportunity to share voice on the matter – speak. And whenever you have the opportunity to influence proposition – vote.