As New York deliberates the legalization of recreational use, improvements to the state medical cannabis program must also be enacted to improve accessibility and affordability for New Yorkers.
Increasing the number of medical dispensaries across the state, supporting a health care practitioner’s right to recommend cannabis as a treatment and including dry, whole flower as an approved form of medical cannabis are all easy steps that New York can take to better address the needs of patients.
Cost remains the top concern relayed to us by our patients, particularly patients of color, who are disproportionally affected by high prices and a lack of access. For many New Yorkers, medical cannabis is too expensive, despite best efforts to make our products more affordable. The are many reasons for the high costs, including the fact that health insurance does not cover medical cannabis. Patients must cover the full cost out of pocket.
The simplest, most effective way to reduce the cost of medical cannabis is to allow the sale of whole and dry flower.
As a physician, I believe that growing the state-regulated medical cannabis program will also help protect public health by reducing the number of patients forced to purchase cannabis from the illicit market. Due to lack of access and high costs in the state’s program, vulnerable patients are forced to use unsafe and untested products without medical guidance. In the illicit market, there is no tracking of a product’s potency nor its potential contamination with pesticides, heavy metals or other adulterants.
Allowing whole cannabis flower would reduce prices, provide greater product variety and medicinal applications, and make the program more attractive and accessible to new patients. If allowed in the medical program, dry flower would no longer need to be purchased on the street; it would be dispensed by licensed pharmacists and followed by established pharmacovigilance tracking provided by our state prescription monitoring program.
It is important we continue to improve New York’s medical cannabis program, not only to increase participation, but to better support patients in a just and equitable manner. Not doing so will only set New York behind both neighboring states and others throughout the country, as most medical cannabis programs continue to quickly evolve and include dry flower.
Dr. Stephen Dahmer is the chief medical officer of Vireo Health.