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Medical Marijuana Program set to begin in New York on Thursday

Update Date: Jan 06, 2016 10:34 AM EST

New York's medical marijuana program will officially start on Thursday with some dispensaries opening their doors to patients with qualifying conditions, such as AIDS and cancer.

"Our program ensures the availability of pharmaceutical-grade medical marijuana products for certified patients and establishes strict regulatory controls to protect public health and safety," state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said.

The program, which is considered to be one of the strictest ones to be passed across the United States, has gotten off to a very slow start. So far, a total of 150 physicians have registered with the state. Eight dispensaries will be opening on Thursday and the remaining 12 will not open until the end of the month.

"Our pharmacists are ready," said Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care NY, which will be opening its dispensary this week near Union Square in Manhattan. "Our product is ready. It's been tested by the state and validated."

Vita added, reported by CNBC News, "We will be providing products and services to a chronically ill patient that hasn't had a great deal of success relying on the standard of care. Part of our mandate is to provide the highest-quality products, services and information so patients can make the right decisions with their physicians."

Columbia Care NY will also be opening dispensaries in Suffolk, Clinton and Monroe counties, FOX News reported.

Under the New York program, in order to be qualified for medical marijuana, patients must first get a certification form from a registered physician. They then have to apply for a registry identification card via the New York Department of Health.

The program has been heavily criticized due to the fact that it can be difficult to find a registered physician. The Department of Health stated that it would post a list online of all the registered physicians who are willing to be on the list. Other criticisms included the amount of time it took for the program to get implemented, the lack of dispensary locations and the types of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana.

"Even with 20 dispensaries there were going to be problems with patient access," Julie Netherland, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, commented. "I'm sure every state program has a period of working out the kinks. But for us this just reveals some of the problems with the program. The larger question here is are patients going to have access to medicine. The program cannot be declared a success until that happens."

According to the Department of Health, it is looking into a delivery service program for patients who cannot travel to a dispensary.

Medical marijuana will come in forms of capsules, oils and tinctures. Smoking marijuana or consuming it in edibles is still considered to be illegal in New York.

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