On Monday, July 7, 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., signed the Compassionate Care Act, making New York the 23rd state in the union with medical marijuana laws. The bill is aimed at helping individuals with debilitating conditions, and is narrower than some states like California, but broader than other states like Georgia.
During the signing ceremony Cuomo stood next to 10-year-old Amanda Houser, who suffers from Dravet Syndrome. This rare disease gives Amanda several seizures a day and forces her to have a restricted diet. Despite her condition, Amanda was happy and full of energy. According to USA Today, she read her comments from a purple piece of construction paper and said, “Hi, my name is Amanda. I want to be a normal girl and I want my seizures to stop. P.S. I want to be off this diet. Right everyone?”
With the signing of the bill, Cuomo started the 18 month long preparation process to get the state’s medical marijuana program running. The state will have five licensed growers that supply the state’s medical marijuana and an estimated 20 dispensaries to supply the marijuana to patients. Unlike other states where most practicing doctors can prescribe cannabis, patients seeking a prescription in New York will have to get a prescription from a state approved doctor.
While many are praising the passage of the Compassionate Care Act, others are concerned about certain provisions in the bill, as well as the length of time it will take to get the program running. In a statement issued by the Drug Policy Alliance, Missy Miller, whose son suffers life threatening seizures every day, said, “I’m heartened that the Governor understands the medicinal benefits of medical cannabis. [However] My son and so many others need this medicine right away. The 18 month timeline for implementation suggested in the bill is simply too long for Oliver.”
Detractors of the bill say that the new law is too restrictive and violates patient’s rights. One of the criticized provisions in the bill bans smokable forms of cannabis; allowing only consumable versions such as edibles, pills, and oil. Many see the restrictive measures as government overreach aimed at protecting the politicians rather than protecting patients.
Case in point: one of the most alarming provisions in New York’s medical marijuana bill is the fact that at the bill gives Governor Cuomo the authority to end the state’s medical marijuana if he suspects abuse. Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, said in a press release, “Patients are advocating for the day when policymakers boast that their state’s medical marijuana program will help patients the most, rather than that theirs is the most restrictive in the country.”
The curious case of New York’s Compassionate Care Act is a mixed bag of victories and defeat for the cannabis industry. On the one hand, patients will now be able to seek the medicine they need without prosecution. No matter how you slice it, that is great news.
On the other hand, New York is still making the mistake that so many other states are making with medical marijuana. Every time the medical marijuana debate comes up, the perennial boogey man of “suspected abuse” haunts the debate like a specter; in response, politicians pass restrictive measures that help some patients, but damn others.
With only five growers and roughly 20 dispensaries, don’t expect much economic activity to happen as a result of New York’s medical marijuana laws. The current laws are simply too restrictive and too closed off to present any substantial investment opportunities. In the future, New York may open up more to meet demand, but at this juncture the herbal entrepreneur is better off looking for cannabis investments elsewhere.