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Prices Still High, But Changes Are Coming to NY’s Medical Marijuana Program

Cannabis State

New York’s medical marijuana program is expanding. There are more options for delivery and new dispensaries are expected to open soon. More doctors are also coming on board to write recommendations, but the cost of medical marijuana products is still out of reach for many patients.

The state is adding more ailments to its qualifying conditions list as well, according to SILive.com. One patient, who suffered a work-related injury and receives disability is one of those patients that has to decide whether to pay his mortgage or buy medical marijuana to treat his pain. Mike (who requested his last name not be used) travels to Manhattan’s Columbia Care dispensary with the help of a driver.

He’s been a patient for just a couple of months and has tried marijuana oil. He gets some relief for about 90 minutes from that. Next, he tried a capsule and got about 2 hours of relief. Now, he takes a pill twice a day but still spends a majority of his day in pain.

Mike said, “Depending on what I do, the more active I am, the more pain I’m in. The last two years I’ve led a very sedentary life.”

How much does Mike’s medicine cost him a month? He’s spending between $400 and $500 a month for minimal amounts of medicine.

Mike turned to medical marijuana after not having success with opioid medications.

He said, “Unfortunately, none of them had a big effect on me.”

He’s fortunate to have not developed a dependency on the medications doctors were prescribing him.

He said, “I never abused the prescription.”

He is frustrated that health insurance doesn’t cover medical marijuana but it does cover the highly-addictive drugs.

The capsules Mike takes don’t completely eliminate his pain, he said, they “don’t make the pain go away. Instead of it being the only thing I think about, it takes it down a little bit so it’s not the first thing I think about.”

The state’s restrictions on medical marijuana are quite strict, leaving patients with minimal options for relief. Many are not finding the relief they need from what products are available. Many cannot afford the high prices of the medicine.

Some dispensaries do offer discounts for patients that have difficulty paying the full cost of medical marijuana.

Doug Greene of Empire State NORML says that feedback from patients comes in and most of it is negative. They hear about the high prices, poor quality and all of the red tape they have to jump through just to get access to medical marijuana.

Greene said, “There are vape pens you can get or $30 or $40 in a state like Colorado that you can get for $100 here for an inferior product.”

Greene also said, “Most people seem to think they’re better off staying in the unlicensed market and getting a cheaper product that way than getting it in the program, and that’s unfortunate.”

Landon Dais of Marijuana Policy Project – New York, said he’s heard similar stories.

Dais said, “Most people that go to a dispensary go once or twice and never go back. It’s just too expensive. They like that the products are screened and safe… but it’s about the bottom line for people’s pockets.”

Doctors were charging patients out-of-pocket for recommendations, but the Department of Financial Services issued a letter saying that insurance covers the doctor visits.

Greene said, “I know doctors were certainly charging for certification visits.”

Senator Diane Savino sponsored the bill for the medical marijuana program. She says, “it’s because there’s been a lot of misinformation.”

Doctors typically look at the New York State Medical Society for guidance, but the society doesn’t support medical marijuana. Doctors have to figure it out for themselves.

Savino said, “Because they sat on the sidelines, doctors are left out, they’re in limbo.”

The New York State Department of Health isn’t fond of the medical marijuana patients buying on the streets.

They said, “The New York State Department of Health is committed to growing the state’s medical marijuana program responsibly and is continually working to enhance the program for patients and practitioners,” a spokesperson said. “The addition of five new registered organizations will help to increase patient access, improve geographic distribution across the state, make medical marijuana products more affordable for patients through the introduction of new competition, and increase the variety of medical marijuana products available to patients.”

Some are hoping that when more dispensaries open and there is more access that the cost will go down and the program can continue to grow.