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Welcome To New York, Marijuana

New York state is the latest state to begin a medical marijuana program.

CREDIT: Flickr user Aurelien Guerchard.

Medical marijuana now has a home in The Big Apple. New York became the latest state with a medical marijuana program when it opened its first dispensaries on Jan. 7, joining 22 other states and Washington, D.C., with such a program.

Legislation authorizing the program, known as Compassionate Care NY, was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June 2014 and is seen as one of the most strict and tightly-monitored programs in the country. Under the program, five organizations are permitted to manufacture and sell medical marijuana and operate four dispensaries each.

While advocates of the program applaud it as a step in the right direction, critics say it is too strict and limits access to medical marijuana.

For example, patients have to make their way through several layers of security to get into Columbia Care Medical Center, one of eight dispensaries that opened their doors earlier this month. Inside, specially trained pharmacists are assigned to every patient, and they are in charge of taking the marijuana capsules, oils, and tinctures out of an underground vault that is locked and out of sight.

Pharmacists are required to take a four-hour training course before handling the medical marijuana, as are physicians before they are able to certify patients. Other states do not require such a course to be taken.

Additionally, the program is only for those who are suffering from serious or terminal illnesses, such as cancer and HIV/AIDS.

However, with the state controlling aspects of the program such as prescribing and dosing, plus the New York Department of Health keeping track of patient information, such a structured program could pave the way for more reliable medical research in an area not always on the federal government’s radar.

Medical marijuana has been shown to provide relief for symptoms such as pain, muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis, nausea from chemotherapy, and seizures from epilepsy.

Matt Wotus is a reporter for Generation Progress, covering health and health care. Follow him on Instagram at @mawotus_27.

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