After some early confusion on Thursday morning, including whether two local dispensaries would be open for business, New York State's medical marijuana program officially got underway. However, many hoping to access the highly-anticipated drug are still awaiting the required certification to receive it.
One of the two Buffalo-area dispensaries remained under construction Thursday but both the Bloomfield location in Williamsville and the PharmaCann location in the Town of Amherst were operating.
Lisa Valle, a supporter of medical marijuana and mother of a daughter who suffers from seizures, paid a visit to both sites to find out if the state's program was indeed underway.
"To my surprise, they both had staff that came out and spoke with me, about their facility and about what things they were going to have available to patients," Valle said. "They actually had medicine available to patients today if they came with their certification card."
But many patients, or parents of younger patients, still lack the certification cards issued by New York State to receive medical marijuana. A doctor who wishes to prescribe it must first be qualified, and can become so by taking a required four-hour course. As of Thursday, about 150 doctors statewide were reportedly certified but New York State health officials had not yet released the list of those doctors.
"I don't expect that all physicians will sign up for and get the training," said Edward Bednarczyk, Chair and Clinical Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the University at Buffalo. "That's not a bad thing, really, because the physicians that should be taking the training are the ones that anticipate using these medications on their patients on a fairly regular basis."
Supporters of medical marijuana say the drug can offer much-needed relief to patients suffering from conditions including cancer, epilepsy, bowel disease and multiple sclerosis. As Bednarczyk pointed out, the forms of marijuana-based medicine allowed in New York's program are different than the forms offered in states such as Oregon and Colorado, where some are concerned that people may work the system to get an easily-accessed high. As Bednarczyk put it, New York's program - which he says is among the most strictly-regulated in the nation - keeps the "medical" in medical marijuana.
"Unlike many of the states that have approved medical marijuana, in New York you're not getting unrefined marijuana," he said. "You're not getting pot, you're getting the extract in a purified, standardized form."
New York State approved the introduction of medical marijuana about 18 months ago when the Compassionate Care Act was signed into law. Many patients and parents of patients have waited a long time for Thursday's launch of the dispensaries.
And as the program gets underway, some need to wait a little longer. Daniel Ryszka is a local pharmacist and also the parent of two children that suffer seizures.
"Each day they keep having seizures," Ryszka said. "This is not good for the body. It's just a matter of time before something bad happens. I'd like to reverse this process and give them a little bit better quality of life."