Lawmaker Lobbies to Allow New York Patients to Smoke Marijuana

By Paul Gaita 01/13/17

Currently, only edible and topical forms of cannabis are allowed under New York's MMJ law.

woman holding a joint.

A New York state senator is asking his peers in the General Assembly to consider amending the state's medical marijuana program by allowing patients to smoke cannabis.

On Jan. 6, Gustavo Rivera, a Democratic senator representing New York's 33rd District, introduced S01087, a bill that would get rid of the "no smoking" rule in the state's Compassionate Care Act.

The amendment aims to cut costs incurred by New York patients, some of whom have paid thousands of dollars every month to get medical marijuana in the only forms which are available to them—namely, edible and topical cannabis products which are expensive to produce.

"Here in New York, you will have to spend, on average, $1,000 to $2,000 a month to be a medical marijuana patient, if you were to buy it from the dispensary," said Sarah Stenuf, a U.S. Army veteran who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Afghanistan. "[The General Assembly] needs to help out more people and they need to allow these dispensaries to give out whole plant-based medicine and not just restrict it to the vaporizer and syrup because it’s going to keep people in the black market," she told Cannabis Public Media.

Senator Rivera's legislation would revise New York's current definition of medical marijuana, and also includes language that bans smoking medical marijuana anywhere that tobacco cannot be smoked, regardless of patient certification.

S01087 is the latest effort by Empire State lawmakers to make medical marijuana more accessible to patients, while still maintaining control over its regulation. It echoes an assessment by the New York Department of Health issued last year, which, while praising the Compassionate Care Act for certifying more than 10,000 patients, noted that more marijuana businesses should be brought into the program to expand the array of brands and products available to patients. Currently, there are just 20 licensed dispensaries in New York state.

Governor Andrew Cuomo responded in November 2016 by granting the health department's request to allow medical professionals other than doctors—such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants—to provide patients with the certifications to join the program. A host of other recommendations, including home delivery service and expanded methods of consumption, remained unaddressed until Rivera introduced his bill.

In a December 2016 interview, Rivera noted that he felt "confident that our State will continue to take the appropriate steps to adequately ensure the success of our State's medical marijuana program as it expands and is redesigned to address developing concerns."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.