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Another Voice: More local access to medical marijuana is needed

By Margaret Stevens

For years, members of my community have been vilified and persecuted for using marijuana. I have friends and family members who spent years in the criminal justice system just for using small amounts of the plant. Now, as a patient who depends on medical marijuana to mitigate the effects of my cancer treatment, I often feel like the system continues to leave me behind.

While I am grateful to have the ability to use this treatment under New York’s Compassionate Care Act, I often feel like I am being forced to jump through hoops just to obtain it. There are no medical dispensaries in my City of Niagara Falls. This forces me to make long trips on public transportation to Buffalo or the suburbs to secure my medication. Many patients across the state are in a similar position. New York is one of the biggest states in the country, but it is served by fewer than two dozen medical marijuana facilities. What this means to the patient is less access and higher costs. That makes the simple act of accessing this treatment a hardship.

New York is surrounded by areas with way more progressive and reasonable marijuana access. As a result, these areas have more affordable medication. It is legal in Massachusetts and Vermont. Across the border in Canada there are multiple dispensaries just miles away, and the country announced it will legalize all pot sales.

Last week, New Jersey announced that it will be doubling its medical marijuana program as it moves toward adult use. New York politicians are now beginning to seriously discuss bringing recreational marijuana here. We must also make sure that medical access is available to the people who need it most in poorer communities such as Niagara Falls that have been historically ravaged by disproportionate enforcement of drug laws. Without improved access, crucially vital treatments will continue to elude tens of thousands of New Yorkers with terminal and debilitating illnesses.

States with advanced medical programs are able to meet the needs of all their patients simply by having increased competition. For instance, nearby Ohio is much smaller than New York. Its medical program is just getting started and it already has about three times more dispensaries than our state.

My treatment is expensive and I am sick. I should not have to travel out of town to secure it, only to be at the mercy of whatever the price the only dispensary I can get to wants to charge. Without increased competition the cost of medication will continue to be prohibitively expensive for many. I need the Compassionate Care Act to be more inclusive and compassionate. So do people in my position all over the state. I urge officials to bring a medical marijuana dispensary to Niagara Falls. The health of New Yorkers like myself depend on it.

Margaret Stevens is a medical cannabis patient who lives in Niagara Falls.

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