Then Governor Andrew Cuomo signed New York State's Compassionate Care Act into law July 5, 2014. Under this law a strict few qualifying conditions were made eligible for treatment with medical cannabis. The Compassionate Care program was narrow in scope both in regard to the number of qualifying conditions and the forms of cannabis made available to patients. What could have been a small victory in the cause of cannabis reform turned out to be an inadequate program that helped very few, and didn't help those few very well.
Medical cannabis finally became available to New York residents with only the most serious conditions in January of 2016. The number of dispensaries initially operating was limited. This lack of options left many potential patients with a drive to their nearest dispensary that was completely impractical if not impossible. The State did allow expansion of the program on a limited scale that included the opening of additional dispensaries. By 2020, the year prior to legalization, New York's medical marijuana patients were all being served by only 38 locations across the entire state.
On the first day of legal medical sales there were only 51 registered patients in the entire state. Even after 4 years of operation and an expanded list of qualifying conditions - New York State's registered patient count never significantly eclipsed 115,000. New York State's medicinal cannabis program has been plagued with issues right from the start. Those issues have included the difficulties encountered by qualified patients when seeking registration, physically accessing medical cannabis once registered, and the forms of cannabis permitted under the Compassionate Care Act. The most significant issue to patients and advocates was the lack of a home cultivation provision for patients and caregivers.
New York State's Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) was signed into law on March 31, 2021. At the time of passage, New York's lawmakers indicated that MRTA would usher in home-grow for medical patients 6 months after passage of the law. New York's registered cannabis patients saw that 6 month benchmark come and go without a mention from New York's Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) regarding that provision of MRTA. 6 months became a year without so much as a word regarding regulations that would give the blessing to home cultivated medical cannabis.
Finally, in the fall of 2021 OCM issued proposed regulations regarding the medical cannabis program under MRTA. Proposed regulations became revised proposed regulations. Each round of revisions was again placed up for a public comment period. Each public comment period pushed back the date patients would be allowed to begin producing their own high quality medicine. As New York State's self proposed 6 month timeline began to reach an 18 month reality a light finally appeared at the end of the tunnel. On September 20, 2022 OCM finally issued finalized regulations that approve home cultivation of medical cannabis starting on October 5, 2022.
As with most things at the intersection of cannabis and New York State - we will just have to hope that this is only the start. The medical cannabis home cultivation regulations recently put forth by the state of New York fall are inadequate in the number of plants permitted to be cultivated by patients in their homes. An individual treating the symptoms of a serious condition is likely to require well beyond the amount of cannabis used by your typical recreational consumer. Following this fact to it's natural conclusion it is reasonable to assume patients using medical cannabis have a legitimate need to cultivate a greater number of plants than the average recreational consumer. MRTA, however did not take this into account. Even if OCM understands the needs of medical patients they are barred from increasing the number beyond this. Plant count is legislatively capped at 12 (with more than 1 patient, 6 immature and 6 mature for a total of 12) per private residence.
The issues and inadequacies surrounding the roll-out of the first cannabis to be legally cultivated in New York State's private residences are trivial in comparison to the state of cannabis in general just a decade ago. While there is much progress still to be made in the liberation of cannabis in New York State there is also much progress to be celebrated. This is one of those celebrations. Hopefully each and every patient and caregiver in New York spends the time between now and October 5th carefully selecting genetics, assembling equipment and dialing in that environment. As medical patients across the state make final plans for those grows keep in mind that plant COUNTS are limited but plant SIZES are not...