Are New York Lawmakers Blocking Access to Medical Marijuana?

The New York legislature is either full of business amateurs or intentionally setup the state’s medical marijuana program to fail. The costs associated with manufacturing the limited amount medical marijuana products available to the small amount of patients in New York, are not allowing any of the dispensaries to make money, according to Vireo Health’s CEO. Not only are they claiming to not have made a single penny of profit, their estimates suggest that they will not be making any money with the current policies that are in place or the new ones that may be coming.

The advantage recreational weed states have over medical marijuana is that they can sell marijuana flower to their customers. Many states, including New York and Florida, have banned smoking for medical marijuana patients for health reasons. Selling flower has very little costs to cultivators, whereas extracting cannabinoids into concentrates and then turning it into a vape cartridge or an edible, has a great deal of cost. Wouldn’t you think that New York, of all states, would have foreseen these insurmountable costs before they implemented the rules? Do you think that they setup the New York medical marijuana program to fail in the first place?

New York’s medical marijuana program is on the verge of total collapse because, according to a recent report from USA Today’s LoHud, the system has been designed to fail.

It will soon be two years since the state implemented its medical marijuana law, giving certain patients the ability to access cannabis products with the permission of a licensed physician.

But the program, which struggled for the first year to service even 1,000 patients, continues to face challenges, including a lack of interest from the medical community, as well as legal restrictions that have prevented enough participation to keep the program alive.

When the Compassionate Use Act was put into place, the state licensed five companies to oversee the production and distribution of medical marijuana. Yet, the state only gave these operations permission to sell specific, pharmaceutical-like products, which are expensive to manufacture and therefore costly for the consumer.

According to state tax data, the entire medical marijuana industry has generated only around $16 million over the past year—that’s before taxes and other operating expenses.

Even while the state attempts to slowly fix the market, moving last year to open the program up to more patients by approving chronic pain as a qualified condition, there are still not enough people buying medical marijuana.

Some of the latest statistics show that only around a third of the state’s 31,116 patients are active participants—around 10,000 people.

The cannabis industry says they have been unable to turn a profit since opening for business in 2016.

“I believe this to be a true statement, which is no registered organization has made even a penny in profits since day one,” Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Vireo Health of New York, told the news source.

One of the biggest problems is New York does not allow patients to smoke medical marijuana, which is much cheaper for both the producer and consumer.

In the beginning, all cardholders were required to use only pills and vaporizers. A report from the New York Times suggested that this restriction on pot products meant that some patients were being forced to cough up over $1,000 a month for their medicine.

The law was recently revised to give way to the sale of lotions, ointments, patches, chewable tablets and lozenges. Nevertheless, these products are still relatively expensive—a situation that is keeping many patients from buying weed from legitimate sources.

As it stands, the state is not even coming close to selling enough medical marijuana to hit the $4 million in tax revenue originally projected by Governor Cuomo’s office. In order for that to happen, the medical marijuana market would need to sell in upwards of $60 million in products.

The New York Health Department believes it can close the gap by licensing more marijuana producers, but the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association, which is representing the initial five medical marijuana companies in a lawsuit against the state, claims this expansion will only serve to drive them further into ruins.

“The (companies) are still operating at a loss, are utilizing a fraction of their manufacturing capacities, and they have not yet come close to recouping the substantial investments they made into becoming pioneers in the program,” reads the complaint.

Furthermore, these operations argue that the state needs to find a solution to driving up the demand, not the supply. This means making the program less restrictive for all parties involved.

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Richard Lowe

Richard Lowe is a 14-year veteran of the financial sector with licenses as a commodity broker (Series 3) and investment advisor representative (IAR Series 65). Along with a focus on raising capital for the firms he was employed with, he also wrote and edited much of the content published by them. He holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts. He has been a longtime advocate for marijuana legalization due to the social injustices associated with marijuana prohibition and the strong potential for the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

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