New York’s seniors need accessible medical cannabis (guest column)

This guest column is from Esther Lelievre, the CEO of Queen Mixxy Media and co-founder of the Cultivated Community Foundation. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of NY Cannabis Insider.

As a cannabis advocate, I am overjoyed that New York has started to open adult-use dispensaries. These dispensaries will be a positive addition to our communities. They will bring in needed tax revenue and support individuals who have been impacted by cannabis prohibition.

But adult-use cannabis doesn’t solve every problem. In fact, I am encouraged that it may expedite the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) to address many of the medical program’s concerns.

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Thirty-seven states have recognized cannabis as medicine. New York first did it in 2014 when the Compassionate Care Act was signed into law. But the rollout of the medical cannabis program hasn’t been smooth. For too long, the list of qualifying conditions was extremely strict and narrow, and now just 38 medical cannabis dispensaries must serve the entire state.

Unfortunately, adult-use cannabis dispensaries aren’t going to be the solution for seniors who currently rely on medical cannabis, and they won’t reach seniors whose lives could be positively changed by medical cannabis.

Medical cannabis dispensaries have pharmacists and other medical experts that can provide our seniors with much needed cannabis education (many are still heavily influenced by the days of “Just Say No”) but can also keep track of what medicine they’ve tried, how the patient is responding and make the necessary product recommendations.

Most seniors are on multiple medications that might impact the effects of cannabis and vice versa. Medical cannabis dispensaries and their pharmacists are equipped to manage that complex care in a way even the best and most experienced adult-use budtender can’t.

The adult-use and medical markets also have completely different needs when it comes to products. Many New York seniors are NYCHA or public housing residents. This limits the way they can consume or are prescribed medical cannabis because they are unable to smoke cannabis on-site.

Other aging New Yorkers have diabetes and can’t consume cannabis candies or gummies because the THC won’t metabolize in the same way. All these problems are solved by medical cannabis dispensaries that provide products tailored for medical needs and can ensure consistent product availability.

While there are still hundreds of additional adult-use cannabis dispensaries yet to open, they will not cater to the needs of a medical market, especially our seniors. These locations are clearly targeting adult-use customers, as they should be. But many of these retail operations can be daunting to seniors, especially those who may be trepidatious about trying cannabis. Medical dispensaries create an atmosphere that is more reflective of a clinical health and wellness visit, something that is much more conducive to elderly consumers.

Not to mention that all of New York’s adult-use dispensaries and many current medical cannabis dispensaries are all in heavily foot-trafficked and touristy areas, not anywhere close to where most of our city’s seniors actually live.

We need medical cannabis dispensaries that will meet our seniors and medically underserved communities, both in approach and location. Communities of color specifically have historically been healthcare deserts, and this continues to be the case with medical cannabis. This is an issue that disproportionately harms the senior population.

Our seniors need better access to medical cannabis now through more dispensaries located in more diverse areas. No one should have to travel significant distances to access their medicine. Everyone deserves quality medical care.

Our elected officials in New York and the OCM have carefully crafted the adult-use cannabis industry to set the standard and be a blueprint for other states. My hope with the new medical expansion is that those applying will keep in the forefront their planning for our most vulnerable population.

If we ignore our medical cannabis patients, we will not have the strongest market or equitable industry I believe we’ve set out to build.

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