Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"How New York Totally Screwed Up Legalizing Medical Marijuana"

NEW-YORKThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new Vice article.   Here are excerpts:

New York state lawmakers voted to legalize marijuana for medical use in 2014, and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law last June. The new law just took effect on January 6 — but it hasn't made it any easier for sick New Yorkers to get high.  Among the 23 states that now allow some form of legal weed, New York's law is among the most restrictive.  Only a handful of serious conditions qualify for a prescription, and so far there are only 71 patients in the entire state.  The patients are only allowed to use tinctures and oils, which can be vaporized, inhaled, or consumed orally in capsules. Smoking or growing marijuana is still strictly forbidden.

Advocates for the palliative use of marijuana contend that New York's law is far too narrow.  While medical marijuana has become increasingly mainstream over the past decade, Keith Stroup, a DC-based attorney and founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said there's still a lingering suspicion by some lawmakers that patients just want to use the drug recreationally.  "State legislators tend to think that getting high is something to be avoided," he said.  "And they're trying to avoid the appearance of someone enjoying themselves when they were meant to be taking their medicine… They don't want to see it turning into another California, where anyone can get a prescription."

New York wields considerable influence over national policy, and Stroup thinks the new law could be bad news for patients in states that have yet to legalize medical marijuana.  Stroup noted that when New Jersey set a precedent by becoming the first state to prohibit patients from cultivating their own plants, Delaware, Illinois, and Washington, DC followed suit.  Stroup said he expects states in the Midwest and South to follow New York's model by outlawing edibles and smoking when they eventually pass their own medical pot laws.  Pennsylvania is currently finalizing a bill that includes those same tight restrictions....

In a letter sent to the New York state legislature, New York Physicians for Compassionate Care — a group that represents more than 650 doctors who support medical marijuana — stressed that numerous scientific studies have shown that smoking cannabis is generally safe and can be beneficial in some cases.  The letter also voiced concern that tinctures or extracts — which have higher levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in weed — might prove too potent for patients accustomed to self-medicating by smoking....

Even the few patients who do qualify and are willing to go through the hassle will have a hard time finding a doctor that can write them a prescription.  Only licensed physicians whose expertise includes [certin limited medical] conditions ... can prescribe medical marijuana in New York.  To do so, the doctors have to complete a special course that lasts up to four hours and costs $250.

Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink


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