A first harvest of cannabis plants for medical treatments are...

A first harvest of cannabis plants for medical treatments are hung in the drying room on Nov. 12, 2015 at Vireo Health in upstate Perth. Credit: AP / John Carl D’Annibale

The state Department of Health announced Tuesday that it will move toward expanding New York’s medical marijuana program, including authorizing nurse practitioners to certify patients, reviewing chronic pain as a qualifying diagnosis, and creating a home delivery service.

The announcement comes after a health department report issued two weeks ago, in which the agency recommended 12 changes to improve patient access. It outlines next steps for a selection of recommendations, but patients are unlikely to see immediate changes.

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a news release that the agency was “constantly evaluating the program to make it more effective for patients and practitioners.”

As of Monday, there were 677 physicians and 7,005 patients registered with the program. Of the 20 planned dispensaries, 17 are open, including two on Long Island: in Lake Success and Riverhead.

The agency proposed doubling the number of organizations in the program, from five to 10, and said Tuesday it will begin reviewing the 38 other applications submitted in 2015.

Health officials also said they had started the process of authorizing nurse practitioners to certify patients. Amendments to the existing law will be published in the state register and a 45-day comment period will then be opened.

A decision on whether to add chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions is anticipated in the next 90 days.

Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), a sponsor of the state Compassionate Care Act that legalized marijuana for some medical uses, said he thought that the health department had been reviewing changes for months and was frustrated by the slow progress toward widening the program.

The Health Department also, in the next 30 days, will contact all registered physicians to get permission to publicize a list of doctors in the program. Medical marijuana advocates have called for a public list of physicians to help patients find a doctor to prescribe them medical marijuana.

The state also announced it would add home delivery services to reach patients far from the existing dispensaries, but set no timeline for getting it started.

Erie County resident Lisa Valle said she has traveled as much as six hours round-trip to get the medicine for her daughter Maya, 8, who has epilepsy. Home delivery would be a “huge plus,” she said Tuesday.

Kate Hintz, a patient’s advocate for the nonprofit Compassionate Care New York, said the lack of immediate implementation of some of the changes made the agency’s announcement “bittersweet.”

State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) said that at this early stage, the proposed changes needed some time.

“Let’s let these new recommendations take hold before we start demanding changes in the law,” Savino said.

We’re definitely getting a feeling we’re not being put first,” said Hintz, who has a 5-year-old daughter with epilepsy.

The agency did not release timelines for two recommendations — to review additional brands of medical marijuana and to explore ways to make access to the program smoother for health care facilities and schools.


  • Authorize nurse practitioners to certify patients.
  • Review chronic pain as a qualifying diagnosis.
  • Create a home delivery service.
  • Expand testing of medical marijuana products.
  • Develop a public list of registered physicians.

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