NYS Exposed: Could the state's medical marijuana program fail?

April 13, 2017 11:32 PM

The medical marijuana program in New York state started in early 2016. For year one, the state projected it would bring in $1 million in tax revenue, but it fell short -- only bringing in half of that. So after a rough first year, is New York’s medical marijuana program destined for failure?

Amber LaForme says, "The days it is worse, the joint just feels extremely full and it is just ready to burst. Sometimes I get spasms, so those are pretty debilitating."

With chronic shoulder pain, Amber LaForme is one of the people waiting to become part of the medical marijuana program. The issue? She can't find a doctor.

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"I've looked all of and it just says 'see your doctor and get a certification' but your doctor has to be part of that program," says LaForme says.

Steven Ognibene is one of only about 20 doctors in our area who can help patients who need medical marijuana. "It can be really challenging for patients and for doctors to get patients who are cold. It is nice to have a relationship with a patient before you treat them with a medication."

As of April 4, 935 physicians have registered, more than 16,000 people have signed up and 13,000 of them have actually tried medical marijuana. However, only 8,000 patients have had the product more than once. That means about half the patients aren't coming back.

So, why are people in the program not staying with medical marijuana? The executive director of the Monroe County Medical Society, Christopher Bell, says one reason could be the cost.

"It is still pretty expensive in New York State," Bell tells us. "For example, a patient who has a form of epilepsy and may suffer from seizures that cost to that patient for the appropriate amount may be around $180 a day which is $65,000 to $66,000 a year."

For the same exact amount of medicine in Colorado, you would pay just $14 a day, and, in California, it would cost you $28 a day.

Amanda Ciavarri: "Do you think if this program continues the way it is right now that it really has much of a future here in New York or is it too restrictive?"

Mike Ognibene: "I think it is too restrictive."

The state Department of Health did expand the program just last month, allowing more people to sign up, and over time allowing more companies to sell medical marijuana in New York, hopefully leading to prices coming down. So as they work to grow the program, we asked Governor Cuomo if these changes will be enough to keep the program afloat in the Empire State.

"That is something we are studying; this is a bit of an experiment for everyone," said Gov. Cuomo. "There is a strong feeling that there was a benefit of medical marijuana for people that needed it, and they couldn't get it."

He adds, "In this state and if you are suffering with a disease and medical marijuana can help you we wanted to get it to you. What is the long-term economic viability of the industry of medical marijuana? That we are going to find out as we go forward."

We also asked the governor about any more plans to expand the program? He said they expand based on need, and right now they feel they are meeting the need. So for now, there are no plans to expand further.

We also asked Columbia Care, our local medical marijuana distributor, about the early results of the program. You can hit play below to see that.


Amanda Ciavarri

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