New York Passes Law to Create Expedited Access to Medical Marijuana

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation to expedite the New York State’s medical marijuana program for people with serious medical conditions whose conditions are progressive and degenerative. This law has been passed just weeks before the program’s planned January 2016 start date, which has been plagued by reported implementation delays in certain facets of the program, including a lack of sufficient registered physicians who are permitted to qualify patients for usage of medical marijuana and uncertainty about the location of certain proposed dispensaries.

The two bills require the New York Department of Health to create an “expedited pathway to certify patients for medical marijuana use if a patient’s serious condition is progressive and degenerative, or if delaying the certified use of medical marijuana would pose a serious risk to a patient’s life or health.”

The bills will also require the Department of Health to register additional organizations to produce medical marijuana as soon as “practicable” and accord preference to applicants who already produce medical marijuana in other states and might be able to get the product to patients “in a more expeditious manner.”

Pursuant to the Compassionate Care Act of 2014, this summer five companies were granted licenses to operate as Registered Organizations (“ROs”) in New York to develop and distribute medical marijuana. A link to our previous Client Alert on this law may be found here. Each RO was required to establish a vertically integrated operation responsible for all aspects of producing and dispensing medical marijuana – i.e., “from seed to sale” and to open four dispensaries in geographically dispersed areas throughout the state to allow maximum access to ill patients across the state.

New York’s law, passed in 2014, makes it one of 23 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana. Under the law, patients with one of ten specified serious conditions (“severe debilitating or life-threatening” illnesses), including cancer, AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, spasticity, neuropathies, and Huntington’s disease may qualify for medical marijuana. Patients with one of the specified conditions, whose practitioner certifies that “the patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from” treatment with medical marijuana will be able to obtain the drug in non-smokeable forms, limited to capsules, liquids or oils that can be ingested or vaporized.

A memorandum accompanying the legislation highlighted that implementation of the state law must fully comply with the federal standards set forth by the Department of Justice.

The Compassionate Care Act raises many compliance issues, including interaction with federal narcotics and banking laws. Moreover, the new law and regulations, which run to over 120 pages, set forth detailed rules governing the application process, patient and caregiver certification, and the obligations of providers and physicians.

GW has established a Compassionate Care Act Team, comprised of GW attorneys with extensive experience in regulatory compliance and related practice areas, to guide our clients in navigating the challenges presented by the Act.

If you have any questions or need assistance regarding New York’s Compassionate Care Act, or the corresponding regulations, please contact the GW attorney with whom you regularly work to be connected with a member of our Compassionate Care Act team.

Compassionate Care Act Team:
Judith Eisen, Michael Keane, John Martin, Peter Hoffman, Barbara Knothe, Michelle Lewis Salzman