Residents of New York state who suffer from chronic pain will soon be able to obtain a prescription for medical marijuana. The ailment was added as an eligible condition following criticisms that the state was too restrictive in its criteria to procure medicinal cannabis.
On March 16, the New York State Department of Health announced that chronic pain sufferers would be able to purchase medical marijuana from one of the state's 20 dispensaries beginning on March 22, the Poughkeepsie Journal reports.
In addition, physician assistants will also be able to register as legal prescribers of medical marijuana for the first time. In an official statement, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker of New York asserted that the new measures will make medicinal cannabis more available to those who need it.
"Improving patient access to medical marijuana continues to be one of our top priorities, as it has been since the launch of the program," Zucker said. "These key enhancements further that goal."
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The measures were in response to public criticism that the state's medical marijuana program was stingy. Implemented in January 2016, the state's program originally only allowed medical prescriptions for those who suffered from cancer, epilepsy, HIV or AIDS, Huntington's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Lou Gehrig's Disease, multiple sclerosis, neuropathies, Parkinson's and spine injuries.
Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement director Josh Vinciguerra of the NYSDOH had defended the state's deliberate and gradual expansion of the program, asserting that the department was concerned about medical marijuana being abused.
"We had to be cautious and careful in the rollout because we weren't sure how any of these things were going to play out in New York state with all the variables that we had," Vinciguerra said.
In December 2016, the NYSDOH announced that it would add chronic pain to the list of qualifications to get a cannabis prescription.
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In 2016, a study published Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk of the University at Buffalo found that the number of Americans who experience chronic pain has increased since the 1990s. The study found while 27 percent of Americans self-reported experience some degree of chronic pain in 1998, that number jumped to 37 percent in 2010, according to Vox.
In 2015, a study conducted by RAND found that states with medical marijuana programs had a 16 percent decrease in opioid overdose deaths, according to Stat.
One skeptic of medical cannabis is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose Department of Justice enforces federal marijuana laws. On March 15, Sessions told reporters that the benefits of medical marijuana had been overblown after he delivered a speech before law enforcement in Richmond, Virginia, according to the Washington Examiner.
"I think medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much," Sessions said.