Share this article

print logo

When will state’s medical marijuana program start?

Nearly 18 months after the Compassionate Care Act was signed into law, medical marijuana advocates say they fear the state’s new highly restrictive program won’t be ready this month, as planned.

“I know they want to go slow on this and that’s fine, but patients have waited too long for this,” said Daniel Ryszka, a pharmacist and Amherst resident with two children – a daughter, 15, and a son, 8 – who suffer from seizures. “They need help now.”

January is the scheduled start date of a new program in which state-approved dispensaries are supposed to start providing marijuana to eligible patients under strict guidelines.

The questions are many for 2016: Will supply meet demand and will the drug’s quality be assured across the different growth and dispensing sites? Are there enough physicians enrolled to oversee who does and doesn’t get access to the drug? Are the dispensing sites difficult to reach – especially for patients in rural areas, to get access? And, of course, will the drug have the touted effects that backers advertise, everything from reducing pain to improving appetite for cancer patients on chemotherapy?

Advocates and patients say they’re not getting any answers from the state Department of Health.

“There’s a ton of unanswered questions,” said Anthony Baney of the Buffalo Cannabis Movement. “They’re not being transparent with the process at all.”

The movement issued a statement Sunday that, in part, said, “We find no compassion for the needs of suffering patients and caregivers in the implementation process to date” and called for full recreational legalization by passing the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.

Two medical marijuana dispensaries will open in Amherst, the only locations in Western New York where the drug will be available. One shop will be located in the Northpointe Commerce Park in northern Amherst and one on South Union Road. But they’re not expected to be open by Tuesday, a self-imposed date set by the state and a full 18 months after the bill was signed.

Baney said those locations put a burden on patients from Buffalo and the Southtowns and patients who rely on public transportation who may not be able to easily reach the dispensaries.

“There’s only two dispensaries,” he said. “How are they going to service all the qualified patients in Western New York?”

Ryszka said he believes his children may benefit from a nonpsychoactive strain of medical marijuana because conventional medicine has failed to treat their conditions.

But he said he’s caught in a catch-22: patients can only be authorized for the program from a certified medical provider who has taken the state’s course. But there’s no registry of certified providers, he said. And some doctors are leery of the program, he said, because marijuana – even in medicinal form – is still illegal under federal law.

“A lot of doctors are apprehensive about taking this course,” he said.

It’s all added up to a lot of frustration for Ryszka, and others hoping for relief.

“We don’t know what’s happening,” said Ryszka. “It’s really terrible. I understand this pretty well. But what about a regular patient who doesn’t know what’s going on? They’re waiting, they’re waiting.”