Jan 22, 2015
Niagra Falls Reporter - Now That Medical Marijuana is Legal in New York... What are the rules, Who will grow and distribute, Who will use it
In this, the first part of our series on Medical Marijuana in New York State
and how it will affect both the state and our local Western New York community, we plan to give our readers a simple primer on the topic.
The Compassionate Care Act Is Passed
At a news conference in New York City, on Monday, September 8th, 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act, which allows doctors to prescribe marijuana in a non-smokable form to patients with serious ailments that are recognized by the state on a predefined but flexible list of conditions.
Cuomo said it was difficult to develop and pass the bill because it needed to embrace increased medical acceptance of marijuana while rejecting situations and conditions that state legislators said could have "good intent and bad results."
"There is no doubt that medical marijuana can help people," Cuomo said. "We are here to help people. And if there is a medical advancement, then we want to make sure that we're bringing it to New Yorkers."
From all accounts, New York will be the most tightly regulated medical marijuana program without a close second.
Presently there are 23 states where Medical Marijuana is legal. It is not legal in bordering Ohio or Pennsylvania. It is legal in Ontario, Canada.
New York’s law, unlike medical marijuana laws in other states, requires companies to hire union workers for their dispensaries and production facilities.
Patients Eligible for a Marijuana Prescription
Under the Compassionate Care Act, a New Yorker is eligible to use medical marijuana if they have been diagnosed with a "specific severe, debilitating and life-threatening condition that is accompanied by an associated or complicating condition."
New Yorkers with cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, and Huntington's disease can, if their doctor approves, get a prescription for medical marijuana once the law goes into effect.
Additional medical conditions which sufferers may obtain a marijuana prescription for - are defined as "associated or complicating conditions". In other words, marijuana may not help in the treatment of the disease directly but rather will help treat both complications arising out of the disease, and side-effects that are a direct result of treatments. Among these "associated or complicating conditions" categorized under the Compassionate Care Act are cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe or persistent muscle spasms.
Some examples; nausea is a widely-known complication associated with cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. Seizures, a complication also known as a refractory symptom, can manifest with a diagnosis of Epilepsy. A refractory symptom, as defined by the Stanford School of Medicine, "is one that cannot be controlled despite aggressive efforts to identify a tolerable therapy that does not affect a person consciousness." The NYS Department of Health states on its website, "In many cases, it is expected, medicinal marijuana would be used in addition to the patient's current medication regimen to treat refractory symptoms."
At present, unless a New Yorker has one of these above listed conditions, it is not anticipated that he or she will be able to obtain a prescription for marijuana. However, Gov Cuomo has indicated that, as new studies emerge that indicate medical marijuana may be useful in treatment of other diseases, he will instruct the NYS Department of Health (DOH) to consider initiating changes to the list of qualified diseases. "The present list of illnesses that qualify for prescriptions for medical marijuana were included because there is evidence, including in existing peer-reviewed medical literature, that marijuana may be effective in alleviating the disease or the symptoms accompanying these conditions."
Observers believe that qualified New Yorkers will not have access to marijuana prescriptions before 2016. First the governor will need to approve a short list of five state-wide growers. Then those growers will need to grow, harvest, and process their medical marijuana products into prescription form.
Can't Smoke it
Under the law, smoking marijuana will not be permitted
. Marijuana will be delivered in tinctures, pills, vapor cartridges and possibly edibles - although the latter has not yet been approved. There is concern that should marijuana be delivered in edibles - say a candy bar - it may become too attractive to children.
New York has argued that the negative health consequences of smoking marijuana are well established, hence the ban on medical marijuana being smoked by patients. This differentiates New York from most other states which permit patients to purchase the plant itself and smoke it, or fulfill their prescriptions with smokable marijuana.
As the National Institute of Drug Abuse notes, "The smoke of marijuana, like that of tobacco, consists of a toxic mixture of gases and particulates, many of which are known to be harmful to the lungs."
Although they have not done so already, the DOH will issue guidelines regulating the allowed dosage amounts, and patients would not be allowed to possess an amount of medical marijuana in excess of a 30 day supply. Additionally, the patient would be required to keep the medical marijuana in the original packaging in which it was dispensed.
No Fancy Names for the Medicine
The crafters of the law have already stated that the products will not carry fanciful names likes those marketed in other states.
Names like Grape Stomper, Train Wreck, Golden Goat, Sage and Sour Critical Mass, Purple Kush or Presidential Kush etc. are out.
Instead the marijuana will be sold in plain packages and the names will be letters and numbers such as, for example, CW-25.
Only Five Companies will grow marijuana statewide
As mentioned above, as of this date, medical marijuana is not available in New York State. The Cuomo administration has established a procedure to select five growers statewide. Each of the five growers will be permitted to have up to four dispensaries, meaning there will be a maximum total of 20 dispensaries where patients can purchase marijuana with a prescription in the state.
It is not known yet whether rural and outlying patients without the means to travel to one of the dispensaries will be able to receive their prescriptions through delivery services or not. Because there is a federal law outlawing marijuana, it is anticipated the US Postal Service will not be able to deliver marijuana prescriptions should it be determined by the state that it can be delivered to patients.
According to published reports, dozens of companies are already well into the planning stages to compete for one of the coveted, five registered organizations (RO's) that will be licensed by New York to grow and dispense marijuana. Some estimates suggest that by the time the applications are submitted this spring more than 100 firms may apply to become one of the five manufacturers of the drug.
Obviously, manufacturers must demonstrate they’ve thought out every detail of their production plan, from security, to support from local lawmakers, to plans for how they’ll transport the plants from manufacturers to dispensaries.
Companies such as Ideal 420 Technologies LLC, Nanoponics LLC., Privateer Holdings Inc., (a Seattle company that invests in medical cannabis and has plans to create a Bob Marley-branded strain of the drug) MJ Freeway, (which touts itself as “your solution to run a successful cannabis business”) Great Lakes Medicinals, based in Webster, Sea Cliff-based PalliaTech Inc., Fioria Franco LLC, based in Clarence, and Lewiston Greenhouse LLC. (owned in part by the principals of Modern Disposal and other investors) are among the companies preparing to make a bid for one of the five spots.
Lots of Regs
Here are the ground rules for “RO” selection.
Can be for-profit or not-for-profit organizations.
Must contract with an independent laboratory approved by the Commissioner of Health for product testing.
Cannot be managed by or employ anyone who comes in direct contact with the marijuana who has been convicted of felony drug charge within 10 years (unless they received a certificate of relief or good conduct).
Growing must be done indoors (which may include a greenhouse) in a secure facility.
The Commissioner will not license more than 5 RO’s, which can each operate 4 dispensaries (for a total of a maximum of 20 dispensaries statewide).
Commissioner can add more RO’s if s/he determines a need.
DOH will issue regulations for RO’s, including regulation governing security and tracking.
To apply to be an RO, the organizations must:
Have sufficient facilities and land or a bond of $2 million.
Can maintain good security.
Has entered into a labor peace agreement.
Able to comply with all state laws.
In determining who can be an RO, the Commissioner should consider the public interest – including regional access.
The fee for RO’s is to be determined by the Commissioner. Licenses are valid for two years then must be renewed.
Licenses can be suspended or terminated if the RO is not controlling diversion or otherwise violating the statute or regulations.
Lewiston, Niagara County in the Running for Big Benefits
One of the leading contenders - and certainly the leading local contender for an RO is Lewiston Greenhouse, LLC, owned in part by the owners of Modern Disposal Services.
Modern Disposal Services is the 20th largest waste removal company in the United States, has an annual payroll of over $21 million and annual expenditures of over $61 million, much within Niagara County.
Since 1996, Modern has paid $37 million to the town of Lewiston based on an agreement it created with the town called a Host Community Agreement (HCA). As a result of the agreement, the company is largely credited for the fact that the town of Lewiston does not have a town tax.
In October 2014, one month after the governor signed the medical marijuana law, several investors including the owners of Modern formed Lewiston Greenhouse, LLC in order to begin the application process to become a NYS Medical Marijuana Producer or RO.
This same group of investors, owners of a 12 acre indoor greenhouse presently growing tomatoes, have made it clear that if selected as an RO it would shift its growing operation to medical marijuana.
Lewiston Company Has Famous 'Healing' Strain
Apropos of this, a member of Lewiston Greenhouse, LLC, Gary Smith said that Lewiston Greenhouse, LLC has obtained the license for New York State to grow a strain of Marijuana known popularly as Charlotte's Web.
Charlotte's Web received national recognition as literally a miracle cure for a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy suffered by children. It is called Dravet Syndrome and there is currently no cure.
Children with Dravet Syndrome suffer from uncontrollable, often very violent seizures beginning in infancy. The seizures are a refractory symptom; they typically do not respond to seizure medications.
Treatment with Charlotte’s Web has proven to immensely aid these children.
This strain of marijuana is low in THC, the psycho-active compound found in marijuana yet it is high in cannabidiol (CBD)
CBD?is a compound considered to have a wide scope of medical applications.
The bottom line? Charlotte’s Web will not make users “high” because of the low THC content.
Charlotte was experiencing up to 60 tonic clonic seizures a day — often up to 300 per week.
Charlotte is one of approximately 400,000 American children who suffer from medication resistant epilepsy. The child was hospitalized a multitude of times and was prescribed medications and special diets, but nothing worked. In fact, the medications were having a negative effect on her. After Colorado implemented its medical marijuana law, it was suggested that Charlotte try a high CBD cannabis oil to treat the seizures. Since her cannabis treatments began, Charlotte has two to three minor seizures a month, mostly in her sleep.
Charlotte’s story is not an isolated one. Alex is an 11-year-old suffering from Tuberous Sclerosis that caused his seizures and autism. His events were so violent that he would repeatedly hurt himself. The family exhausted all mainstream medical options before turning to medical cannabis. As in Charlotte’s case, it worked.
Presently the developers of Charlotte's Web are treating nearly 200 epileptics with their special strain of marijuana. Nearly all have seen dramatic reductions in the frequency and intensity of their seizures.
According to Paige Figi's blog, "[Charlotte] is consistently eating and drinking on her own for the first time in years. She sleeps soundly through the night. Her severe autism-like behaviors of self-injury, stimming, crying, violence, no eye contact, zero sleep, lack of social contact ... are a thing of the past.
She is clear-headed, focused, has no attention deficit. Charlotte rides horses, skis, paints, dances, hikes. She even has friends for the first time. Her brain is healing. She is healthy. She is happy." Time Magazine noted in October 2014, that the creators of Charlotte's Web had a waiting list of more than 12,000 families, some of whom moved to Colorado to be able to legally obtain it.
Will Niagara, Lewiston Reap a Windfall?
In addition to the fact that Lewiston Greenhouse, LLC has the know how to grow, and the money to do it, it also has the only New York license to grow and sell Charlotte's Web.
Lewiston Greenhouse intends to create a Host Community Agreement (similar to the one Modern created with their disposal contracts) with the Town of Lewiston. This means significant additional revenue for the town which Lewiston taxpayers, eager to avoid a town tax, will be certain to embrace.
On top of that there are other economic benefits that come to the county.
Counties hosting growers and dispensaries will receive up to 45% of the seven percent excise tax charged on the marijuana products. With only one of five growers to service a state of almost 20 million people, the tax benefits could amount to untold millions for Niagara County, if Lewiston Greenhouse is selected.