The Compassionate Care Act has expanded and changed each year since Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed it into law in 2014 and 2018 was no different.
Among others, one big change that was made to the Medical Marijuana Program was the addition of opioid replacement as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. As a result of this change, patients with severe pain that doesn’t meet the definition of chronic pain can use medical marijuana as a replacement for opioids. The regulation also added opioid use disorder as an associated condition, allowing patients with opioid use disorder who are enrolled in a certified treatment program to use medical marijuana as an opioid replacement.
In 2019, New Yorkers will continue to see changes and tweaks to the Medical Marijuana Program as the State aims to improve the program. Change may also be on the horizon with respect to recreational marijuana use in New York State.
Medical Marijuana Update
On November 14, 2018, the New York State Department of Health published its Medical Use of Marijuana Under the Compassionate Care Act Two-year Report – 2016-2018. The purpose of the report is to provide an overview of the program’s activities since the last two-year report was published in 2016. You can view the Report for the years 2014-2016 by clicking here.
In the 2018 Report the DOH recommends “expanding the medical marijuana program to reach patients who may be self- medicating with marijuana from sources that are not regulated or held to the same high-quality standards as the medical marijuana products manufactured by registered organizations in New York State.”
In order to expand the program the DOH lists nine steps it will endeavor to undertake, some of which New Yorkers will likely see in 2019.
One of the changes the DOH wishes to make in order to expand and improve the program is to afford practitioners more clinical discretion in determining whether or not to certify patients for medical marijuana, based on an evaluation of the patient’s condition, past treatment and the overall risks versus benefits for each patient.
In addition, the DOH wants to increase the number of practitioners available to certify patients, by permitting all prescribers of controlled substances to humans to participate in the program. This is a change from current regulations that only allow physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify patients to use medical marijuana.
In the 2018 Report the DOH also recommends increasing the number of caregivers for each certified patient to five caregivers per patient in hopes that this will allow for increased flexibility for families in providing care to their loved ones. Currently the number of caregivers for each certified patient is capped at two.
Recreational Marijuana Update
Nine states, plus Washington D.C., have all fully legalized marijuana use. As we had noted in New York May Consider Recreational Marijuana Legalization, in his January 2018 budget address Governor Cuomo called for an assessment of the possible impact of regulating marijuana in New York State. The Governor directed certain New York State agencies to evaluate the health, public safety, and economic impact of legalizing marijuana.
In July 2018, the DOH published its findings in the “Assessment of the Potential Impact of Regulated Marijuana in New York State.” Overall, the DOH indicated that it would be in favor of the establishment of a regulated marijuana program.
The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts. Areas that may be a cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education that is tailored to address key populations. Incorporating proper metrics and indicators will ensure rigorous and ongoing evaluation.
A full summary of the DOH’s findings can be found in our previous blog post, NYS Department of Health Report Green Lights Legalization of Marijuana.
Following the issuance of the Report Governor Cuomo held Regulated Marijuana Listening Sessions, the purpose of which was to gather input from community members on the possible enactment of a regulated marijuana program in New York State. The Listening Sessions were held across New York State during September and October.
On November 21, 2018, a spokesperson for Governor Cuomo confirmed that creating a framework for legalizing adult marijuana use is among the administration’s 2019 legislative priorities.
The goal of this administration is to create a model program for regulated adult-use marijuana – and we determined the best way to do that was to ensure our final proposal captures the views of everyday New Yorkers,” said Tyrone Stevens, a spokesperson for the Governor. “Now that the listening sessions have concluded, the working group has begun accessing and reviewing the feedback we received and we expect to introduce a formal comprehensive proposal during the 2019 legislative session.
 Opioid replacement joins the following 12 qualifying conditions under the state’s Medical Marijuana Program: cancer; HIV infection or AIDS; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); Parkinson’s disease; multiple sclerosis; spinal cord injury with spasticity; epilepsy; inflammatory bowel disease; neuropathy; Huntington’s disease; post-traumatic stress disorder; and chronic pain.