On January 7th, The Compassionate Care Act was passed in New York State.
This law allowed medical marijuana to be prescribed to patients with illnesses like cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s ALS and other severe pain related diseases.
According to the New York State Department of Health the Compassionate Care Act is smokeless, meaning that only edible forms of medical marijuana will be available to registered patients. With 421 physicians registered and certified to prescribe medical marijuana, 1,174 patients with registered prescriptions and five dispensaries already located in New York State, the Compassionate Care Act program seems to be rapidly taking off.
Surprisingly, none of these physicians or dispensaries have made their way to the Ithaca Tompkins County area. The closest dispensary to Ithaca to date is the Etain Health Center located in Syracuse, New York – over an hour away.
The New York State Department of Health has prevented the medical marijuana dispensaries from any filmed or recorded interviews by the press since their last press release on January 7th, and has placed restrictions on all non-registered patients from having any access whatsoever to their facilities.
Physicians registered to prescribe medical marijuana are not allowed to advertise their registration and the list of registered physicians is restricted to doctors only. This makes it difficult for non-registered patients to find out more about the Compassionate Care Act program.
There is not a single registered physician in the Ithaca area, confirms Dr. Raja Rao, PHD Psychiatrist at the Cayuga Medical Health Center.
With hour long commutes to Syracuse being out of the question for a large number of patients in the Ithaca area suffering from these painful conditions, Rao was able to add some insight to the lack of medical marijuana in Ithaca and what patients in area should do.
“Medical transportation can be paid for by Medicaid, if you can show medical need for the transportation” Rao says. “However with private insurance, that can prove a little more difficult to do.”
“According the Compassionate Care Act, you can designate any two people and get them registered so they can retrieve the prescription for them (the patient).” Rao continues. “From what I have read, they have been thinking about maybe mailing the prescriptions to you, however they are a bit worried about it being stolen on the way to the patient.” Roa says.
“Again, this is what I have heard from my colleagues, I am not registered or able to prescribe myself.” Rao clarifies. “The conditions listed, like ALS, cancer, Huntington’s, all involve a lot of chronic pain” Rao explains. “So if you have those (conditions) you are most likely to have a neurologists, an oncologists, and such… Those are the ones (doctors) who are most likely to prescribe it.”
When asked the stigma surrounding medical marijuana being a factor preventing the spread of medical marijuana into Ithaca Rao responded, “It might be if you open it up to psychiatric conditions – things you can’t measure. But if you have Huntington’s and Parkinson’s you can’t just lie, it’s right in front of you… So I don’t think that that will become an issue or have any negative connotation.”
With the Compassionate Care Act still being a new program, Dr. Rao remains confident that within six months there will be a “trickle down” of doctors and medical marijuana dispensaries to Ithaca and the other smaller cities of New York.