By Council Member Mark Levine, published in the Manhattan Times.
Medical marijuana will finally be available in New York. But where will it accessible?
It is welcome news that five licenses were awarded to organizations that will be able to manufacture and distribute this treatment throughout New York State. It’s also encouraging that two of the dispensaries will be placed right here in Manhattan.
With one of these dispensaries already slated to set up downtown on East 14th Street, I encourage the second operator, Bloomfield Industries, to open a dispensary in Northern Manhattan.
My concern is simple: that we make sure that we have a dispensary where the need is highest. There are thousands of chronically ill patients in Northern Manhattan that deserve access to this vital new medical resource, yet many of them will have a difficult time covering long distances to receive their medication, especially since delivery of the drug is currently prohibited by law.
New York’s Compassionate Care Act is a significant step forward, but it remains arbitrarily small and far too restrictive. This vital new treatment is not covered by insurance in New York which is an additional barrier for low-income New Yorkers. And lack of access will be compounded further by the fact that there are just five dispensary operators expected to stretch services across a state of 20 million people.
It would be profoundly unfair to site both of the Manhattan dispensaries in Midtown or Lower Manhattan, far from some of the neighborhoods with the highest potential to benefit. We must maximize the value of the limited licenses awarded today – and that means preventing both dispensaries from being clustered in the wealthiest areas of Manhattan. Access is even more crucial in the communities of color that represent, which suffer from higher percentages of HIV/AIDS and Parkinson’s than the general population.
Last fall, I sponsored a resolution in the City Council applauding the passage of the Compassionate Care Act, but many of the concerns with the law that I listed in that resolution remain unchanged. We should expand the amount of conditions for which marijuana can be prescribed, and commit to increasing the amount of dispensaries that are available statewide (right now only 20). Also, New York is one of two states that has a medical marijuana program but doesn’t allow the treatment in a smokable form, the most affordable method of delivery. These barriers will keep those suffering with serious medical conditions in pain, when other state’s programs would bring them relief.
That’s why it is critical we make sure that one of the two medical marijuana dispensaries licensed for New York County is placed in Upper Manhattan. Failing to do so will hurt uptown communities who continue to face persistent healthcare disparities. New Yorkers need the proven pain relief that medical marijuana can offer. And a dispensary in Northern Manhattan will expand the reach of this compassionate treatment.