Home grows, insured cannabis, and ongoing cannabis legislation in NYS

Jeffrey Hoffman is a New York City-based attorney who hosts an “Ask Me Anything about Cannabis Legalization in New York” weekly on LinkedIn. Hoffman and NY Cannabis Insider have partnered to score the session in a question and answer format.

Hoffman’s practice focuses on cannabis industry clients, including licensees in the adult use market, practitioners in the medical cannabis space, and providers of cannabis-adjacent products and services. He has a special interest in social equity and economic cannabis license applicants, and he also informs and assists those convicted of cannabis offenses to have those convictions removed from their records. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Hoffman co-hosted this week’s episode with Nikki Lawley, a licensed nurse and cannabis patient, who shared her perspective and experiences on current cannabis news.

The following AMA from March 8 has been edited for length and clarity. Hoffman’s next AMA is on March 15 at 4:20 p.m

Nikki, tell people a little about yourself.

Hi Jeffrey, very happy to be here. I am a medical cannabis patient in New York State. I became a medical patient in 2018 when chronic pain was approved on one of our condition registers in New York State because I suffered a traumatic brain injury. Before becoming a New York State patient, I learned a lot about cannabis in the Nevada market, as well as in the country of Canada.

You mentioned that last night there was the medical cannabis event from OCM, where they talked about what’s new in the cannabis program. Would you tell us a little about what you experienced in that event and what disappointed you about it?

So the event was organized by the Cannabis Management Office. It was advertised as an expansion of the medical program and a renewal of the New York state program. So as a New York state medical patient, I’m very excited to hear what good New York State will do for our patient program, because our medical program is very important to sustain.

And not the fault of the OCM presenters, but I find the content very misleading. I felt like the content was almost like us in grade school, learning our ABCs instead of what we do about our programs.

This would be a great presentation for beginners coming to medical programs. I’m not saying I didn’t learn anything, I did learn a few things. New York State is undergoing a complete renovation of the registration system which they hope to have in place by the end of the month.

But for somebody who’s been a patient, I think we’re really looking for answers rather than things we already know. The only thing I feel like I’ve learned is that dispensaries should start selling clones and seeds, and seeds to patients so they can grow their own cannabis. I’ve never seen this in West New York – maybe in other parts of the state. But I haven’t seen this actually happen.

What would you like to hear from them, in your ideal world? What things can they tell you at this meeting?

We should have changed our labels and our access to analysis certificates. And we’re going to have terpene and minor cannabinoid percentages in all of our medical products — that’s going to be tremendous.

The other thing I want to hear is, ‘we have a new patient advocate, who is the face of our medical cannabis program and someone who actually uses the product.’ The patient experience is completely forgotten in our medical program. And I feel like there’s a lot of stacks, but not enough Indians doing the job.

I say that with all due respect, we just have a lot of people doing things at an apparently high level – they’re doing the job. I’m not suggesting they don’t – but advocacy is being forgotten. We wouldn’t even have an adult use program if our medical program didn’t exist. The reason New York State is moving toward adult use of cannabis is because of the efforts of advocates pushing and bringing the product to the state.

Do medical dispensaries have a dispensing system for severe cases? For people who can’t operate a vehicle?

So in general, it seems that medical dispensaries can do deliveries. And that would really be an opportunity if someone is unable to operate a vehicle or is at home.

The problem is that rural consumers usually don’t have access to those delivery services. So yes, we can appoint caregivers for those people. But still, there are patients out there who drive three hours plus just to get to the dispensary. We must do better.

What do you think about insurance companies covering medical marijuana?

So I know very little about insurance only having worked in the medical field, and my husband works for a large brokerage firm in Buffalo. The problem is that by canceling cannabis scheduling, cannabis is now considered a recreational substance.

And now, insurance companies, especially like Blue Cross Blue Shield are saying, ‘We don’t pay for cigarettes or alcohol. Why do we have to pay for cannabis?’ So the only way – it’s my understanding – we’re going to get medical cover is by rescheduling.

And there’s a lot of problems with either of those — you’re just choosing your poison and determining which way is less harmful and more beneficial to the public and the people hurt by the war on drugs. And I mean, it just creates a whole different argument, if you will, I’d love to see it go. I’m one of the few people in New York State whose workers’ compensation is actually mandated to cover my medical cannabis before settling down, and it goes back and forth. It is not available to other people.

I am allergic to every drug they have tried to prescribe me. So as a result, the judge actually ordered me. The insurance company appealed and they agreed, hearing after hearing. It was like a total poop show.

What does the law have to say in this regard?

I think we need to advocate, most importantly, for the cost. Insurance companies don’t want to pay $50 for an eighth herbal remedy, they want to pay $20 for an eighth herbal remedy. But then, where is the legacy of the growers who have developed these craft products specifically for chronically ill patients?

By legalizing it and giving the Senate control over it, we’d be minimizing or increasing the market in such a way that I’m not sure which is better, because insurance companies have their own rules and sets of rules. So we need to advocate for more open communication between insurance companies and doctors and look at ways to incorporate alternative medicine as part of this bill.

As cannabis becomes more common in society, there is a problem of patients who hesitate to tell doctors about their cannabis use. Let listeners know what you think about this.

People don’t know what they don’t know. So if we don’t tell our doctors, they don’t know we use it. They usually don’t include medical cannabis in medical records. Usually it’s under another section—street drugs—and nobody wants that in their medical records.

But, you know, it’s a fear. I mean, the stigma and the War on Drugs and the programming by the DARE program that just stuck in my mind.

And what I see is a younger generation growing up, where this is accepted, but to people my age and older, it’s not cool. It’s not something you talk to your doctor about.

Doctors may disagree with it, but they still have to understand it and learn from it. So if there are any contraindications, or any concerns, they should be able to talk about them with their patients and with each other.

Let’s talk more about home growing. Did you grow up at home and you think that is the future?

So growing at home is necessary for medical patients. There are people who can grow the medicine much more economically than going to the pharmacy. And as we talked about earlier, people in rural areas in particular shouldn’t be punished for the ability to use plants and grow their own medicine.

OCM has a very clear outline of how many plants you can grow. And that’s a maximum of 12 per household. Whether you are a nurse for many patients or if you are a patient yourself, you can have a total of 12 plants. That is six children and six adults. OCM defines immature as not in the flowering stage, and they define mature as any phase in the flowering stage.

I have actually tried growing and failed five times. It’s not as easy as everyone says. Now, genetics as far as seeds go, and as far as clones go, it’s interesting. I’ve never seen one in the Buffalo area. But the total number of plants becomes a problem, especially if I want Joe to grow my particular medical cannabis strain, then Joe can only grow six plants for his own medical cannabis strain and grow max for me too. And that’s not fair. A person with expertise should be allowed to assist other patients in a way that does not jeopardize their own medication needs.

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