Is Our Medical Marijuana Program Working?

by Maximilian Eyle

28 states across America as well as Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. In the beginning of last year, New York joined them and gave out five licenses to medical marijuana distributors to begin providing patients with the drug. Right now, there are 17 dispensaries across the state, with nearly one thousand doctors registered to prescribe medical marijuana and 16,000 people registered in the program. But is the new system working? Of the 16,000 registered patients, only about half have stayed in the program. Tax revenue is also lower than expected, only reaching about half of what was predicted.

So why is New York State’s medical marijuana program falling short? Some insights can be gained by comparing it to similar programs in other states. In Colorado, the daily dosage of medical marijuana for a seizure patient costs $14. In California, it costs $28. But in New York, the same medicine costs $180 per day. This places a huge financial burden on medical marijuana patients and makes the treatment inaccessible for many families. Why is the price so much higher? One reason is that New York State has only issued five licenses for the commercial sale and distribution of medical marijuana. In comparison, Colorado has 520 licensed centers. This means that there is much less competition in New York than in states like Colorado and California. Another factor is distance: because there are only 17 dispensaries across the Empire State, many patients are forced to drive great distances if they want to pick up their medication.

Since its inception, New York’s medical marijuana program has expanded in its coverage of certain conditions. In March, patients suffering from chronic pain became eligible to receive medical marijuana from their doctors. The program already includes cancer, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and variety of other illnesses. However, it is still far more restrictive than many other states’ programs. Patients suffering from PTSD, muscular dystrophy, and arthritis are not eligible for medical marijuana in New York. Furthermore, patients cannot grow their own marijuana and are only allowed to buy non-smokable forms of the drug, like liquids or other edible products.

Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo recently stated that there are no plans to expand New York’s medical marijuana program. According to him, it is fulfilling its purpose. Yet the evidence shows very clearly that New York’s medical marijuana program is not functioning as effectively as it could. Enacting the current system was a step in the right direction, but we must now consider how we can improve the status quo to help those who need it. By expanding the market and increasing access to the program, we can create jobs, reduce prices, and help those who need treatment.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has experience working in the drug policy field and writes about it every month for CNY Latino. Maximilian learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at