As adult-use pot takes center stage, medical providers are frustrated by slow roll out of changes that would increase patient access
Rebekah F. Ward
Sep. 29, 2021
Updated: Sep. 30, 2021 11:10 a.m.
Green Thumb Industries broke ground on a new cannabis cultivation and production facility at a former prison in Warwick.

Green Thumb Industries broke ground on a new cannabis cultivation and production facility at a former prison in Warwick.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

ALBANY — Six months after New York passed its landmark bill legalizing marijuana for adult use and creating a regulatory framework for the cannabis industry overall, the state is violating the law’s deadline for home cannabis cultivation rules.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act allows limited home cultivation of medical cannabis. But it also specifies that patients will not enjoy that right until after the Office of Cannabis Management issues regulations governing it, which it was obligated to do “no later than six months after the effective date” of the law. But after a series of delays, staffing of that office is still underway.

That means lawmakers’ intention for the law to allow medical marijuana card holders to begin growing plants this week is on hold indefinitely.

The delay is the latest in a series of stumbles in the medical cannabis program, and they are occurring in spite of the explicit intent of legislators who drafted and championed the new law.

In the months following the law’s passage, patients and doctors also complained that key updates to the program which legislators insisted were meant to apply right away had yet to take effect, including increasing patients’ supply limits to 60 days, permitting physicians to have discretion on the reasons they certify for patients’ cannabis use, and allowing the sale of whole flower.

Dr. Mark Oldendorf, who runs a general practice in Albany and has developed significant expertise on the medical applications of cannabis, is frustrated that he has patients who should have been eligible months ago for medical cannabis certification but have yet to receive the treatment in New York.

“I’ve had quite a few people who I’ve turned away because they wanted it specifically for insomnia, that’s the big need, and it’s not a qualifying condition” at the moment, he said. “So all of those people are headed off to Massachusetts to buy something.”

Oldendorf said this delay has pushed some doctors to search for additional relevant ailments that might tick a box on the state’s outdated online form, in order to get around the restrictive list of conditions a provider must select from.
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According to the law, all aspects of the state’s cannabis industry – including medical use – will now be regulated by the Office of Cannabis Management and its Cannabis Control Board. While appointments for the agency’s leadership were confirmed just days after Gov. Kathy Hochul took office in late August, the final members of the board were announced only last week and hiring continues for positions throughout the new agency. The nominating process had been delayed for months under the previous administration of former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

“We put a lot of attention on the board appointments, which we agree is absolutely vital and has a lot of urgency around it,” said Ngiste Abebe, president of the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association and director of Public Policy at cannabis company Columbia Care, in an interview conducted before the new board and agency leaders were announced.

“However, these changes to the medical program are also urgent, and don’t rely on the board appointments to be enacted,” she said, adding that she hoped to see the same urgency applied to the improvement of patient care as the adult-use transition is starting to receive.

After this story was published, the association issued a statement applauding Hochul and legislative leaders for “ending the political logjam” and quickly appointing candidates as cannabis regulators.

“We hope the new leaders bring urgency to the implementation of much-needed changes to the medical cannabis program that were left unfinished by the previous administration,” the statement said.

State Department of Health spokeswoman Jill Montag told the Times Union that even updates such as allowing the sale of whole flower and adding new qualifying conditions require “a series of regulatory and administrative changes.”

They include “updates to product testing and sampling procedures as well as the program’s patient certification and inventory management systems,” she said. Prior to the recent board appointments, Montag said that the health department was actively working to make these changes; but now any updates will fall under new leadership.

“As the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) and the Cannabis Control Board (CCB) have now been fully constituted, they will be overseeing these changes as they occur,” she said.

A notice on the health department’s website says that “although the MRTA includes provisions to expand the Medical Marijuana Program, at this time the current regulations and program operations remain the same.”

Three champions of the medical cannabis program, state Sens. Diane Savino and Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, sent a letter to Cuomo on May 27 clarifying that lawmakers had expected key updates to the medical program to advance independent from the new regulatory framework, including adding new eligible medical conditions and leaving it to a practitioner’s discretion to prescribe the drug for any reason.

“DOH is responsible for implementing the changes in the MRTA (until the Office of Cannabis Management is operational),” the letter said. “We urge you to take action and implement important changes without further delay.”

Montag reiterated Wednesday that the department has taken preliminary steps toward enacting aspects of the program expansion. She said its staff will work with the incoming agency to “ensure that the changes are implemented quickly.”

https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/New-York-misses-deadline-on-rules-for-medical-16496668.php