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Pol calls for new Long Island medical marijuana dispensary

State Assemb. Chad Lupinacci speaks during a news

State Assemb. Chad Lupinacci speaks during a news conference about medical marijuana at Farmingdale State College Monday, Aug. 29, 2016. Credit: Barry Sloan

State Assemb. Chad Lupinacci on Monday reaffirmed his support for expanding New York’s medical marijuana program and proposed adding a third dispensary in the middle of Long Island to supplement those in Lake Success and Riverhead.

Lupinacci (R-Huntington) said at a news conference he favored several recommendations in a recent state Department of Health report, including authorizing nurse practitioners to certify patients, increasing the number of dispensaries statewide, and pushing for marijuana to be removed from the federal Schedule 1 illegal drug classification.

“There’s obviously a lot of support across New York State,” Lupinacci said of improving access to medical marijuana. “We’ll continue to fight for it in New York State.”

The health department earlier this month issued the report marking two years after the state’s medical marijuana program was signed into law. The agency made 12 total recommendations, including providing more brand options, adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition, and establishing a public list of registered physicians.

A review of the state report is underway, with an update on “next steps in process and substance” expected within a week, an agency representative said.

Local advocates, patients and officials told Newsday the report underscores the program’s accessibility problems, which mainly stem from high prices and too few dispensaries and doctors.

Today, seven months after the program’s launch, 17 of the state’s 20 planned dispensaries have opened. Half the dispensaries are clustered in southern New York, with nine across New York City and Long Island. The first opened in January.

The health department recommended doubling the number of dispensaries in the next two years, with a “phased-in approach.”

Long Island’s two dispensaries serve about 1,300 patients, according to the report. Lupinacci said that they were located “basically at two geographic extremes” and that a third dispensary opening at a midpoint in Long Island would improve access for patients.

Lupinacci also supported allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify patients for medical marijuana use. A bill introduced by Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) passed in the state Assembly in the past legislative session but has yet to be addressed in the Senate. This bill is a key piece of legislation to resume in January, Lupinacci said.

Earlier this month, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency upheld marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use.” It is in the same classification with drugs such as heroin and ecstasy. Lupinacci said this likely deters doctors from registering with the program, because while 25 states have legalized medical marijuana — four of them also legalizing recreational use — it remains illegal under federal law.

Dr. Warren Zysman, of ACI, a network of drug rehabilitation facilities in New York State, said at the news conference he supported giving patients the necessary “tools” to treat their illnesses, but cautioned against recreational marijuana use.

“If their needs require medical marijuana or other medications, then those should be available to them,” Zysman said. “This is not something that young people should run away with ... It’s not a safe drug for people to use recreationally.”

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