Assembly health chair proposes doubling medical marijuana program
ALBANY — Assemblyman Richard Gottfried has introduced legislation that would double the number of medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries in the state in the hopes of giving more people better access to the drug.
The legislation, introduced Friday, would enable the state health commissioner to register at least five more organizations to manufacture medical marijuana by next Jan. 1. Each organization would be allowed to operate up to four dispensaries.
Under the state's current program, which was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 and began dispensing the drug to seriously ill individuals last month, five organizations were awarded licenses to grow and distribute the drug. However, not all of them were ready to begin operating by the January start date.
According to the justification included with Gottfried's bill, 49 counties with a cumulative population of 7.5 million have no medical marijuana dispensary within their borders.
“Statewide, there are 978,500 New Yorkers for every medical marijuana dispensary,” it states.
Moreover, patients and advocates say the current program is too stringent and that the 20 original dispensaries will leave large pockets of state without access to the drug.
“There simply aren’t enough dispensaries under the current law,” said Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsored the original medical marijuana bill. “There will be just 20 dispensaries for almost 20 million New Yorkers."
When the licenses were awarded in July, there was just one dispensary north of Interstate 90, and one in the Southern Tier.
"The issue of limited geographic access to dispensaries is a major concern, especially since travel for those who are sick and disabled can be difficult," said Julie Netherland of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Twenty dispensaries for a state of almost 20 million people and 54,000 square miles is simply insufficient and creates significant barriers to patient access. This bill, which would double the number or dispensaries, is a step in the right direction."
To expedite the selection process for the state health commissioner, Gottfried’s bill calls for medical marijuana applications that were submitted last year to be reconsidered.
“To speed the process, it authorizes the commissioner to consider the applications submitted during last year’s selection prices,” Gottfried said in an email. “This will help get potentially life-saving medicine to more New Yorkers who need it.”