Legal Weed


Yes, New York State has a poor track record for keeping corruption at bay. And, yes, it operates as a nanny state on many levels. It has its hands deep into taxpayers’ pockets, with numerous, tight controls on business. Yet, the state has managed to get one thing right in the medical industry. Last year, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) began regulating a Medical Marijuana Program for patients, practitioners and registered organizations. These regulations allow for the sale of a range of medical marijuana (MM) products within official dispensaries where patients can fill a doctor’s prescription for MM in the same way they do at their local CVS.

For some, this change in policy flew under the radar. Apart from the massive billboard display (“Got Pain? Medical Marijuana Can Help.”), which I noticed off I-90, just before turning on to Everett Road on my way to Honest Weight, it’s been a modest public relations campaign for state government, and who can be sure why? Given the statistics for chronic health conditions in this state and beyond, this is a highly enlightened policy that can benefit patients suffering a range of maladies, from cancer to stress-related mental and physical conditions.

New York now falls in line with 29 other states that have legalized MM, with eight others that have legalized it for recreational use. “Ensuring access to medical marijuana for eligible patients is central to the Department’s efforts to responsibly grow New York’s Medical Marijuana Program,” said NYSDOH Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker.

Under these new developments, registered organizations (ROs) are allowed to manufacture and distribute additional products, including: topicals, such as ointments, lotions and patches; solid and semi-solid products, including chewable and effervescent tablets and lozenges; and certain non-smokeable forms of ground plant material. The products are, of course, highly regulated and subject to rigorous testing. The NYSDOH reserves the right to exclude inappropriate products or those that pose a threat to public health.

The difference between a state where MM is legal and a state that allows recreational use is straightforward enough. New York State first requires that prospective patients consult a physician who can prescribe MM if and when a medical condition warrants it, and if it actually makes sense for the patient to be using MM to address particular symptoms.

One particular online organization has made this phase of obtaining MM far easier for patients. It works in cooperation with the state of California and appears to serve only residents of New York and California. After the $135 registration fee, a certified physician consults with the patient online in an interview that takes just minutes. If the patient’s complaints or condition warrants a prescription for MM, the physician provides the patient with a prescription form of sorts, which the patient then forwards to the New York State Medical Marijuana Program. Within a week or so, the state mails an MM card to the patient, which he or she then presents to any local medical marijuana dispensary, along with an official ID.

These relatively new laws among the twenty-nine states where MM is legally sanctioned are clearly a financial benefit for the state, as well as for pharmaceutical companies. As The New York Times recently reported, “Investors put $500 million into private cannabis companies last year.” There is an equally generous share of investment among numerous related industries, who recognize the obvious growth potential in this segment of the medical marketplace.

“The two fastest-growing categories are tinctures and pills,” the Times reports. Their coverage of the issue continues, “This shows how far away this marketing is getting from the party-oriented Cheech and Chong movies. Tinctures and pills are about an older demographic easing the aches and pains of age. It’s more part of their wellness regimen than their party regimen.”

It remains to be seen what the overall effect will be from Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent move to strengthen federal drug enforcement policies. Sessions’ decision to repeal the Cole memo, an Obama-era protection for states that have legalized marijuana, had immediate ripple effects among investors—not to mention concerns among certified MM patients. But because state revenues are witnessing a boom in this industry, and because MM patients are receiving the care they need and deserve, the federal government is facing an uphill battle if they hope to reverse current MM laws.

Thomas Washington is Head Librarian at the Albany Academy for Girls. He has been a Co-op member since relocating to Albany from Washington, DC in 2015.