Add dry flowers to the list of medicinal cannabis options

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As New York considers legalizing recreational use, improvements must also be made to the state medical cannabis program to make it more accessible and affordable for New Yorkers.

Increasing the number of medical dispensaries across the state, endorsing a doctor’s right to recommend cannabis as a treatment, and the inclusion of dry, whole flower as an approved form of medicinal cannabis are all simple steps New York can take to help to better satisfy the needs of patients.

Costs are still the main concern of our patients, especially color patients, who are disproportionately affected by high prices and a lack of access. For many New Yorkers, medical cannabis is too expensive, although best efforts are being made to make our products more affordable. These are many reasons for the high cost, including the fact that health insurance does not cover medical cannabis. Patients have to pay the full cost out of their own pocket.

The easiest and most effective way to reduce the cost of medicinal cannabis is to enable the sale of whole and dry flowers.

As a doctor, I believe that expanding the state-regulated medical cannabis program will also help protect public health by reducing the number of patients who are forced to buy cannabis in the illicit market. Due to the lack of access and the high cost of the state program, vulnerable patients are forced to use unsafe and untested products without medical guidance. There is no tracking of the effectiveness of a product or its possible contamination with pesticides, heavy metals or other adulterants in the illegal market.

Allowing an entire flower of cannabis would lower prices, offer greater product variety and medicinal uses, and make the program more attractive and accessible to new patients. If this is allowed in the medical program, then it is no longer necessary to buy dry flowers on the street. It would be dispensed by licensed pharmacists and then monitored by an established pharmacovigilance tracking system provided by our state prescription monitoring program.

It is important that we continue to improve the medical cannabis program in New York, not just to increase participation, but to better serve patients in just and equitable ways. If you don’t, New York will only lag behind neighboring states and others across the country as most medical cannabis programs move quickly and contain dried flowers.

Dr. Stephen Dahmer is the Chief Medical Officer of Vireo Health.