Cuomo Administration Rolls Out Prescription Pot Plan

Marijuana (Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images).

Marijuana (Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images).

Top Cuomo administration officials today outlined the regulations that will control the state’s new medical marijuana program, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law in July—rules they claimed aim to treat the long-illegalized substance like any other prescription drug, but set a high bar for producing and providing it to patients.

“We’re trying to treat medical marijuana as much like other controlled substances as we can,” said Terence O’Leary, deputy secretary for public safety, on a conference call with reporters.

Nonetheless, Mr. Cuomo’s team described a system of rules that would require qualifying patients—only those with severe ailments such as HIV infection, epilepsy, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease or a severe spinal injury—to obtain approval and an identification card from a state-certified physician, and to get their prescription from a state-certified pharmacist at a special state-certified dispensary. The physicians and pharmacists in turn must be New York residents and will be required to take a four-hour course before they can obtain state accreditation. The patients must live in or be receiving treatment in the state.

New York will issue just five licenses to as-yet unformed companies, which will be wholly responsible for growing, processing, transporting and dispensing the drug. All such work must be done entirely in-state, and each private company will be allowed to operate just two dispensaries—the geographic distribution of which has yet to be determined.

If located on the same thoroughfare as a school or religious institution, a dispensary must sit at least 1,000 feet away. For now, the drug will be available only in the form of a pill or oil, and the law does not allow for smoking the substance, though it does permit patients to vaporize and inhale it—which Mr. O’Leary said studies had found was the best way to use it.

“Inhaled vaporized marijuana is both more effective and preferred by patients over smoked marijuana,” he said

The state has yet to set prices for the product, though the regulations allow the licensed companies to provide the drug to low-income patients at a reduced or waived price, as the governor’s office anticipates private insurers will not cover the cost of the drug. The state will levy a seven percent tax on the product, with 22.5 percent of the revenue going to the county where drug is manufactured, 22.5 percent to the county where it is purchased, five percent to the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, five percent to the Department of Criminal Justice and the remaining 45 percent committed to the state’s general fund.

The producers and dispensers will have to pay a whopping $10,000 application fee and an additional $200,000 license fee, the latter being refundable should the company not receive state approval. Still, the administration said they expect a high number of applicants hoping to enter the budding industry.

“We don’t expect there to be any lack of interest,” said Sandi Toll, assistant counsel to the governor.

Patients will have to pay a $50 fee for state certification, though New York will waive the fee if the person can prove financial hardship. There are no estimates yet on how much green the state or the dispensers will see.

The administration said the regulations were the result of a months-long consulting and engagement process with advocacy groups, parents, politicians, the federal Department of Justice and several of the 22 other states with similar programs in place.

“The goal of this program is to permit the safe and effective use of approved medical marijuana products, while also safeguarding against the diversion of marijuana,” said Courtney Burke, Mr. Cuomo’s deputy secretary for health and mental hygiene.

The administration said that it expects the program to be running by January 2016.