A home delivery service will be created for patients as part of New York’s expanded medical marijuana program, according to an announcement by the state Department of Health.
The change, one of nine that will be implemented, comes on the heels of a recent health department report that recommended the program’s expansion.
The medical marijuana program was signed into law two years ago and the report was mandated at that time.
Additional changes include authorizing nurse practitioners to certify patients for the program, expanding the financial hardship waiver for patients and caregivers who apply for registration, and modifying the state’s data management system to make it more user-friendly for certified patients and caregivers, according to the health department.
“New York’s medical marijuana program has rapidly progressed, certifying more than 7,000 patients across the state and registering more than 675 physicians in just the first seven months,” health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a press release. “We are constantly evaluating the program to make it more effective for patients and practitioners, and we believe that the implementation of these recommendations will do just that.”
A medical marijuana dispensary — the only one in Suffolk County — opened in Riverhead earlier this year. Columbia Care New York — a subsidiary of Columbia Care, which also offers medical marijuana in four other states and Washington, D.C. — runs the Riverhead dispensary.
CEO Nicholas Vita said in an interview that he agrees with many of the report’s recommendations. Establishing a home delivery system is one of his biggest concerns, he said.
“What we would love to see is a situation where if a patient is unable to travel, we would like to be able to provide safe and responsible home delivery so that they can enjoy all of the conveniences that they would expect to receive from any other prescription medication,” Mr. Vita said.
Mr. Vita estimated that approximately 1,000 patients currently receiving medical marijuana from the Riverhead facility. He said he hopes to see that number increase.
Adding chronic pain as a condition that can be treated with medical marijuana, along with the addition of a home delivery system, will help add more patients, he said. So will authorizing nurse practitioners to certify patients.
Nurse practitioners can currently prescribe controlled substances such as opioids, so the change ensures consistency, the health department said.
“Allowing nurse practitioners to participate in New York’s program will provide greater access to New Yorkers of all ages and health conditions since these New Yorkers are increasingly choosing a nurse practitioner as their health care provider,” Stephen Ferrara, executive director of the Nurse Practitioner Association, said in the release.
Other program expansions announced by the state include doing more testing of medical marijuana products in different labs and continuing to encourage the federal government to ease restrictions on scientific research, the health department said.
Mr. Vita said cost is another critical issue.
“We definitely want to reduce pricing as we increase access so that this becomes a natural and less expensive alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals,” he said. He added that building up the dispensary’s manufacturing capacity should result in a reduction in how much products cost in the next 12 to 18 months.
Mr. Vita said the amount of support the dispensary has received from the community has been overwhelming.
“When a patient comes in and shares their experience I can hardly explain how satisfying that is,” he said.
While Mr. Vita said he thinks the state program is going well so far, it’s still in its infancy and needs time to grow. He said his company has always advocated growing the program but understands some people still are opposed to the idea.
“It’s really our job to make sure that people on both sides of the debate understand that this is a very strong positive for their communities and for patients,” Mr. Vita said. “We think the fact that the medicine we manufacture is improving patients lives and is working for them is a huge win for all New Yorkers.”
File photo: Columbia Care assistant general manager Christian Shilling demonstrates how a tincture bottle measures a dose of medicine. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)