Changes to New York’s Medical Marijuana Program

New York State is working to expand the State’s medical marijuana program.

On December 1, 2016 the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH or Department) announced its plans to expand the State’s medical marijuana program by adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition in proposed regulations. The State has already approved ten conditions under the Compassionate Care Act that will permit qualifying patients to register to recieve medical marijuana. Such conditions include: cancer; positive status for HIV/AIDS; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; multiple sclerosis; damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity; epilepsy; inflammatory bowel disease; neuropathies; Huntington’s disease. The regulations also permit “any other condition” to be added by the commissioner of Health.

Chronic pain under the proposed regulations will be defined as:

any severe debilitating pain that the practitioner determines degrades health and functional capability; where the patient has contraindications, has experienced intolerable side effects, or has experienced failure of one or more previously tried therapeutic options; and where there is documented medical evidence of such pain having lasted three months or more beyond onset, or the practitioner reasonably anticipates such pain to last three months or more beyond onset.

Unlike New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Program, where the registration cost for a qualifying patient is $200, New York’s qualifying patients who have been certified by a practitioner pay only a $50 registration fee. Hardship waivers are available under New York’s Medical Marijuana Program. In New Jersey, qualifying patients who meet the financial thresholds for specific federal and state assistance programs can obtain a registration card for $20.

“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,” stated NY’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, in a press release. “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,” he added.

Public comments to the addition of chronic pain as a qualifying condition are due by February 6, 2017.

Additionally, on November 30, 2016, regulatory amendments went into effect which authorize nurse practitioners to certify patients for medical marijuana. Before they can certify patients, nurse practitioners would need to register with the NYSDOH and take the Department-approved Medical Use of Marijuana course online.

Similarly, the NYSDOH announced in the fall a proposal that would allow physician assistants to register with the Department to certify patients for medical marijuana (as long as their supervising physician is also registered to certify patients). Public comments for this proposed rule amendment are due at the Department by January 17, 2017.

“Nearly 19,000 nurse practitioners and more than 11,000 physician assistants are licensed to practice in New York State, where they are already authorized to prescribe controlled substances (including opioids),” observed the NYSDOH. “Empowering them to issue medical marijuana certifications will help patients suffering from severe, debilitating or life-threating [sic] conditions, particularly in many rural counties where far fewer physicians are available.”