Medical marijuana: Lozenges, lotions coming to New York

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New York is letting 10 companies have 40 dispensaries across New York to sell and manufacture medical marijuana.
Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau

ALBANY - New York will allow ointments, lozenges and chewable tablets as part of its medical marijuana program while the state's training program for doctors will be cut in half, the Department of Health announced Thursday.

Health regulators on Thursday proposed a new set of regulations that would further expand the state's medical marijuana program, which the state has tried to broaden as it faced criticism from patient advocates and marijuana companies for its restrictiveness.

The new rules, which can take effect as soon as late September, ease the state's restrictions on the type of marijuana products available to certified patients by allowing lotions, ointments, patches, certain chewables and lozenges.

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The state's medical marijuana law only allows non-smokeable forms of the drug.

"These regulations will continue to improve the program in several ways, including making new forms of medical marijuana available and improving the dispensing facility experience," state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement.

Along with the product changes, the new regulations also make changes for doctors and dispensaries.

The new rules will allow doctors to take a two-hour course before becoming a registered provider of medical marijuana, down from the current four-hour course.

It's an effort to encourage more doctors to participate; As of Tuesday, the state had 1,155 registered practitioners for 26,561 patients certified in the marijuana program.

Potential patients, meanwhile, will now be able to enter dispensaries to speak to representatives about the products once the new rules take effect. The current rules only allow patients that are already certified in the program and their caregivers.

The move is the latest to try and expand the patient and doctor pools for the state's medical marijuana program, which launched in January 2016.

Earlier this year, the state added "chronic pain" to the limited list of conditions eligible for marijuana treatment -- a move that boosted the number of certified patients in the state by more than 75 percent.

Kate Hintz, a state organizer with pro-medical marijuana group Compassionate Care NY, said she believes the state is making an effort to expand access to the program.

Hintz, a resident of North Salem, Westchester County, has a daughter with a rare form of epilepsy who is a certified patient.

"They do seem to be staying true to their word, which I appreciate," Hintz said Thursday. "Now, that being said, even with a lot of the changes that are happening, New York still falls in the category of being one of the more restrictive programs in the entire country."

Last week, the state approved five new companies to manufacture and distribute the drug, adding to the five that began operating last year.

The move has angered the original five marijuana companies, four of which have sued the state in an attempt to block it.

The new regulations proposed Thursday will be published in the state's official register on Aug. 23. That will kick off a 30-day public comment period, after which the Health Department can officially adopt the rules.

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