Living in New York City is costly so it may not be surprising that New York medical marijuana comes with steep prices too. However, the cannabis industry in New York is still new and it simply may be that not enough time has gone by for the competition to set in that can drive prices down. In the meantime, New York is still contending with an illegal marijuana market and many residents would still rather go that route instead of paying up for legal cannabis.
While the state’s highly-regulated medical marijuana program is expanding, now with delivery options, more dispensary locations coming, more practitioners to certify patients, and more ailments approved for treatment, patients are still saddled with a high-priced product, payable only with cash, leading some to get the illegal version of the drug the old-fashioned way.
The Compassionate Care Act passed the state Legislature in 2014 to provide relief for people suffering from debilitating ailments like cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and more, including the recently-added chronic or severe pain.
That last one is a game-changer for many New Yorkers suffering from anything from back pain, migraines, or sciatica to fibromyalgia, arthritis or endometriosis.
Mike, who asked not to have his last name used, worked as vice president of a bank until he slipped and fell at his house two years ago, severely injuring his back.
The Port Richmond resident had surgery, leaving severe pain in his back and left leg.
Unable to work, he has been collecting disability.
Receiving only a partial salary and still having to support his family and pay his mortgage, the out-of-pocket costs of the drug may be too high to sustain.
Mike gets his drug at Columbia Care’s dispensary in Manhattan, needing someone to drive him, unable to make the drive himself with the chronic pain.
He has only been in the state’s medical marijuana program for two months and has already tried an oil, whose effects lasted about 90 minutes to ease the pain, he said.
The following month, he tried a capsule, whose effect lasted about two hours.
He takes the pills twice a day, and the rest of the day, he’s in pain.
“Depending on what I do, the more active I am, the more pain I’m in,” he said. “The last two years I’ve led a very sedentary life.”
The cost? Between $400 and $500 per month.
Insurance does not cover medical marijuana, and only cash or debit cards can be used for payment. Credit cards are not acceptable.
Before he enrolled in the medical marijuana program — finding a doctor to evaluate him, certifying him for the drug, paying the fee to get an ID card — Mike was using prescription opiates to moderate the pain.
“Unfortunately, none of them had a big effect on me,” he said.
Thankfully, he also did not develop dependence on the Vicodin, Oxycontin or other drugs that doctors sent his way.
“I never abused the prescription,” he said.
But he expressed frustration that insurance covers those highly-addictive drugs, but not the non-addictive medical marijuana, which also only dull the pain, not eliminate it.
The capsules “don’t make the pain go away. Instead of it being the only thing I can think about, it takes it down a little bit so it’s not the first thing I think about,” he explained.
There are many others like Mike, who dole out hundreds of dollars for the drug, but some opt for the more well-known smokeable version of the illegal drug that people can buy on the street.
The marijuana derivatives approved by the state don’t get a patient high, and there is no legal smokable form in the program, leaving capsules, oil and vapor as the options.
The state’s Health Department “determined the reasonableness of the proposed prices and approved them as the maximum price per dose [for] each registered organization” and prices vary among the five registered companies that provide the drug.
While the Health Department said some organizations offer discounts for people who can’t afford to pay the high price for the meds, they couldn’t provide details about who is eligible or what the discounts are.