New York, Illinois Face Low Enrollment Issues


The newest states to legalize medical marijuana are facing an unforeseen issue: low enrollment. Restrictive terms and regulations may be preventing many from accessing the help they need.

Related: Will NY Be the Next to Legalize?

Illinois and New York, both of which opened their first medical dispensaries in the last few months, are struggling to qualify enough patients.

New York, who legalized in January, has only 165 patients enrolled in the program, only a small fraction of the total potential patient pool. Many are looking at their restrictive conditions as part of the problem. New York recognizes only 10 qualifying conditions for the medical marijuana program, and chronic pain and PTSD are not among them.

In addition, the state has seen 225 doctors undergo the required training to prescribe marijuana; but with no public access to that list, many patients are finding it hard to find a doctor who’s qualified, and many individuals outside the city are struggling to get access

Related: Georgia Looks to Expand Medical Marijuana Program

“It’s frustrating, it’s aggravating, and some people are losing hope,” said Donna Romano, 60, to the Casper Star Tribune in New York. Romano lives in Syracuse and has lived with multiple sclerosis for years, but she has been unable to find a doctor who is prepared to prescribe the medicine she needs.

Illinois, who also legalized recently, currently has around 4,000 patients who are approved to buy the drug. Despite claims of the government that many thousands of patients could be enrolled, dispensaries are concerned they won’t see the estimated 20-30,000 they need to stabilize the industry. Patients are dealing with long wait times to get approved, and must undergo fingerprinting and a background check, which can add to their wait time.

Many in the state are also hesitant to enroll; the state does not allow anyone who possesses a firearm to have a medical marijuana ID, and the cost to get a card is $150.

In recent weeks, patients have pushed to expand the current list of 30 conditions, but in September of 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed the measure. Excluded from the 30 are conditions like IBD, autism, osteoarthritis, and most notably PTSD. A new ruling expected in early February. A social media campaign is underway under the hashtag #Approvethe8.

These two large markets for medical marijuana can be learning opportunities for the nation at large. Balancing transparency, regulations, but above all, patient access, is a difficult trick new states are trying to learn.


Live in a state where it’s legal? Find the best dispensaries and deals near you.


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