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What Patients Need to Know About New York’s Medical Marijuana Qualification Process

Changes in laws regarding marijuana usage have made headlines all across the country and right here in the state of New York in recent months. However, many people still aren’t clear about exactly what the law entails when it comes to qualifying for medical marijuana in New York State. The good news is that it is now much easier for people to get the medial marijuana they need when dealing with life-affecting conditions. Anyone interested in qualifying to obtain medical marijuana in the state of New York will still need to take a few steps before they can walk into a dispensary and walk out with a dose of legal cannabis.

Here are the key topics that will be covered while exploring the qualification process for obtaining medical marijuana in the state of New York:

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  • The first thing to know about qualifying to obtain medical marijuana in New York
  • A glance at the New York medical marijuana program’s guidelines
  • Who can qualify for medical marijuana in the state of New York?
  • What are the rules regarding medical marijuana access in New York?
  • How patients can obtain medical marijuana when they are unable to travel
  • Special cases
  • A final word on obtaining medical marijuana in New York

Taking a little time to understand the new laws and learn about the basics of how to qualify for medical marijuana can be helpful if you’re looking for a way to manage a chronic illness. In addition, this is valuable information for any family member or loved one who is seeking a way to help a patient who is suffering with a serious condition. Find out everything you need to know to get on the right page with your physician and the New York State Department of Health.

The First Thing to Know About Qualifying to Obtain Medical Marijuana in New York

Becoming qualified to obtain medical marijuana as a patient in New York State begins with a conversation. You must speak with your qualified practitioner to determine if medical marijuana is an appropriate avenue for managing a specific illness or set of symptoms. Only a doctor registered with the New York State Department of Health as a referring physician can issue a patient a certification for medical marijuana. It will be necessary to seek out a doctor who is registered as a referring physician for medical marijuana with the state if your current treating physician does not have the qualification. However, the conversation should be started with a qualified physician, and usually with your current primary care physician before any steps are taken.

A Glance at the New York Medical Marijuana Program’s Guidelines

Legislation was passed in New York State that established a state-level medical marijuana program. This means that patients seeking to use marijuana in a medically therapeutic way may do so with the help of a physician. Here are the main guidelines that must be followed:

  • Patients must be certified to use medical marijuana by a licensed healthcare practitioner
  • Patients who are certified must then register with the New York State Department of Health
  • Patients must also obtain a state-issued medical marijuana ID card
  • Patients cannot use an out-of-state medical marijuana ID to obtain medical marijuana in New York State

Becoming qualified to use medical marijuana in New York can be done through the Department of Health’s online patient registration system. You must reside in New York and be a valid citizen in order to qualify for the medical marijuana registry. Anyone applying to participate in the registry will need to be able to provide a valid form of identification and proof of residency in the state. It is possible to present a valid United States passport or some other alternative form of valid identification if you do not possess a driver’s license. The registration process is done entirely online. You must visit https://my.ny.gov/ after receiving certification from a practitioner. People with an existing account will be able to sign in. Those without an account will need to sign up to be assigned an ID first. You can use the website’s Medical Marijuana Data Management System link to receive step-by-step instructions regarding how to register. This is the portal that must be used by both patients and caregivers. It is the responsibility of a patient or caregiver who has been issued a registry ID to notify the state’s medical marijuana registry if any change has been made regarding a name, address or the status of a medical condition. All changes must be reported within 10 business days. A person’s registration expires when the certification that was issued by a qualified practitioner expires. Obtaining a medical marijuana ID card is one of the most important aspects of participating in the registry. It is necessary to properly fill out an application for a medical marijuana ID and submit it to the state’s Department of Health prior to visiting a dispensary. It is only once this form of authorization is received that a patient may go through the legitimate channels to obtain the legally permitted amount of medical marijuana. It typically takes seven business days for an ID to arrive after a patient completes the online registration process. However, I have seen patients obtain a card by mail in as few as two days. In fact when the program just started I used to tell patients that the department was like the Amazon Prime of government departments. Though recently the program seems to have slowed and many patients have been receiving their cards by mail closer to seven-to-ten business days than two days many patients experienced about a year ago.

Who Can Qualify for Medical Marijuana in the State of New York?

New York is one of 23 states to create a system for legally obtaining medical marijuana. New York’s medical marijuana laws are defined in NYS law, which is known as the Compassionate Care Act. This legal document provides a detailed outline of the medical conditions and/or symptoms that can justify the use of state-approved medical marijuana. To qualify, patients must either have chronic pain (chonic = at least three months) or PTSD that persists after treatment with other standard medications OR a patient must have one qualifying symptom and a related medical condition. The other symptoms that qualify to receive medical marijuana include

  • Pain
  • Muscles spasms or spasticity
  • seizures
  • nausea or
  • wasting (aka cachexia)

that are the result of a chronic disease. The length of time that a patient has been living with a related disease does not necessarily play a role in determining whether or not medical marijuana is an appropriate method for managing that illness. Both patients who are newly diagnosed and those who have been living with a condition for many years can be considered as candidates for medical marijuana in New York State. However, in general, to qualify patients should have tried regular medications before trying medical marijuana, which is an alternative treatment. Patients who have been diagnosed with any of the severe conditions that are on the list are given legal protection under New York’s medical marijuana law. Here is a list of the related conditions that qualify for medical marijuana in New York:

  • Chronic pain
  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

It is necessary for a patient wishing to obtain medical marijuana to be able to provide medical records or documentation that outlines the diagnosis of the medical condition they are suffering with. A patient who is visiting a recommending doctor for the first time should have all health records and documentation sent over to the new provider’s office before their first visit. The importance of forming a relationship with a recommending physician cannot be overstated when it comes to the process of applying for and obtaining patient certification for medical marijuana in the state of New York. Forming a relationship with a provider that is approved to participate can ensure a smooth process and help you and your family to feel at ease.

What Are the Rules Regarding Medical Marijuana Access in New York?

Some people erroneously think that medical marijuana is interchangeable with prescription drugs when it comes to the law now that cannabis has been legalized for medicinal purposes in the state of New York. The reality is that medical marijuana is handled very differently under the law than prescription drugs. It is illegal for a doctor to supply a marijuana “prescription” to a patient. Instead a doctor provides a “recommendation.” While these two words sound the same legally they are very different. In addition, marijuana cannot be obtained at pharmacies. It can only be obtained at dispensaries. The dispensaries are regulated by the New York State Department of Health and each one not only sells but produces their own products. All marijuana must be distributed in strict compliance with the law. Here are some key things you should know about how marijuana can be obtained under the new law:

  • It is still illegal to cultivate cannabis for medicinal purposes
  • Patients can only obtain limited quantities of medical marijuana
  • It is illegal to obtain more than a 30-day supply of medical marijuana
  • The smoking of cannabis as a delivery method is prohibited
  • Edibles are not approved for dispensing
  • Patients are prohibited from having access to any plant material
  • Medical marijuana products obtained in New York State may not be transported out of the state

Marijuana cannot be dispensed at a pharmacy or given to a patient directly by a physician. You will actually have to obtain marijuana from one of five state-monitored cannabis dispensaries in New York. Here is the list of approved dispensaries:

  • Vireo Health of New York LLC
  • MedMen
  • Columbia Care NY LLC
  • Etain LLC
  • PharmaCann LLC

It is important to note that all of these dispensaries have multiple locations throughout the state. In addition, more approved dispensaries are scheduled to open in the months and years ahead. Patient cardholders can actually obtain more than just their marijuana doses when visiting dispensaries. Dispensaries in New York State are permitted to sell a variety of state-approved accessories such as different vaporizers. The New York Department of Health also allows the usage of patches, certain chewables, lozenges, ointments and lotions for medicinal purposes. One of the benefits of the dispensary system is that cardholders are given access to fairly priced marijuana. However, it is important to note that prices vary among the registered dispensary organizations within the state.

How Patients Can Obtain Medical Marijuana When They Are Unable to Travel

Some people who are interested in participating in the state’s medical marijuana registry may have concerns over the fact that their physical condition does not permit them to travel to dispensaries to pick up marijuana. There is good news if you’re one of those patients. New York allows dispensaries to deliver to a patients location. Additionally, New York permits patients to add up to two caregivers when filling out an application to obtain access to legalized cannabis. Those caregivers are permitted to assist with giving a patient access to medical marijuana. In addition, care facilities are also able to register as caregivers under the new rules. All caregivers must register with the New York State Department of Health before being legally permitted to obtain marijuana on behalf of a patient.

Special Cases – Minors and Patients Unable to Consent

It is also possible for someone to register on behalf of another person in some special circumstances. A person may register on behalf of another person if the patient is under 18 years of age or is incapable of consenting to a medical treatment. The person submitting the application on behalf of another person must be at least 21 years of age. At least one caregiver must be designated who meets the criteria of being a parent or legal guardian, a person appointed by a parent or legal guardian or a person approved by the Department of Health in cases where it has been sufficiently proven that no parent or legal guardian is available.

A Final Word on Obtaining Medical Marijuana in New York

The qualification process for obtaining medical marijuana in New York is fairly straightforward. However, you really do have to go through the right channels and take the proper steps to ensure that you can legally and safely get the marijuana doses you need. There simply are no shortcuts. There are many protections in place that are designed to help to ensure that patients can obtain medical marijuana without any threats from the law or harassment. One important thing to remember is that anyone with an ID that allows them to obtain and possess medical marijuana in the state of New York should keep it with them at all times. Doing so will protect a patient against any legal actions. This also applies to designated caregivers. Of course, finding a recommending physician to help with the process of becoming a certified patient is the most important step in signing up for the medical marijuana registry in New York State.

Michael Morgenstern, MD Dr. Michael Morgenstern is a double board certified neurologist. He treats patients with medical marijuana at Morgenstern Medical at locations in Manhattan, New Hyde Park and Hicksville. He is the founder of the NY Medical Marijuana Association. He can be reached at [email protected]