New York officially launched the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes on Thursday with the opening of the first eight dispensaries in the state that will serve various tinctures, vapors and concentrates made from the drug.

The move allows New York to join Washington, DC and 22 other states that have adopted comprehensive programs for medical marijuana use in helping to ease the suffering of patients diagnosed with serious illnesses such as AIDS and cancer.

Despite the launch of the dispensaries, New York's medical marijuana program is still considered not to be as expansive as that of California, which maintains hundreds of dispensaries in the state. Many of these medical marijuana stores even have neon light advertisements and display cases filled with products in different names such as Cookie Wreck and Candyland Kush.

In downtown Manhattan, patients looking to obtain medical marijuana at the Columbia Care dispensary have to pass through the establishment's multiple layers of security before they can get in.

Patients are assigned their own pharmacist who is specially trained to dispense oils, capsules and tinctures made from marijuana extract. Medical marijuana supplies are kept in an underground vault to keep them safely out of sight.

This restrictive approach of dispensing medical marijuana is well-received by academics and medical researchers who believe that New York's tight controls over various aspects of the program, such as prescription and dosage, will allow them to conduct more extensive studies on the efficacy of the drug in medical use.

"They're trying to put the medical back in medical marijuana and not make it the farce that it has become in some states," Edward M. Bednarczyk, chairman of pharmacy practice at the State University of New York, said.

In 2014, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation authorizing the use of medical marijuana in the state, which came to be known as the Compassionate Care NY program.

As party of the program, the state government has licensed five organizations to produce and sell medical marijuana through dispensaries. Four dispensaries are authorized to serve the drug and are expected to open by the end of January.

Obtaining Medical Marijuana From Dispensaries

A person can be eligible to obtain medical marijuana from the dispensaries if he or she has been diagnosed with a specific debilitating or life threatening illness that is accompanied by a complicating condition.

Severe medical conditions stated in the Compassionate Care NY program include HIV infection or AIDS, cancer, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS), spinal cord injury with spasticity, inflammatory bowel disease, Huntington's disease, epilepsy and neuropathy.

Associated or complicating conditions to these illnesses include severe or chronic pain, severe or persistent muscle spasms, seizures, severe nausea, or cachexia or wasting syndrome.

If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions, consult with your treating physician regarding the potential use of medical marijuana as part of your treatment.

Once your doctor determines if the drug is indeed appropriate for your condition and that he or she is registered with the Medical Marijuana Program of the health department of New York, he or she may then issue you a medical marijuana certification.

Contact the state health department to get a list of registered physicians authorized to issue certification for medical marijuana.

Other Medical Conditions Eligible For Medical Marijuana

Aside from the conditions that were stated in the initial list, the health commissioner of New York may also include other illnesses eligible for medical marijuana.

Medical conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, dystonia, muscular dystrophy, rheumatoid arthritis and posttraumatic stress disorder are being evaluated as potential additions to the list.

Forms Of Medical Marijuana Allowed By Law

Any form of medical marijuana must have the approval of the health commissioner. Forms of the drug approved by the state include capsules that are meant to be taken orally and liquids and oil for vaporization or administration through the use of an inhaler.

Smoking medical marijuana is not allowed under the law.

Registered physicians who will issue certification to their patients must include the authorized brand and form of medical marijuana, the dosage, the administration method, as well as any limitation on the use of the approved drug product.

The total amount of medical marijuana product that dispensaries can serve may not go beyond a thirty-day supply.

How To Register With The Medical Marijuana Program

Patients issued the certification may then register with the Medical Marijuana program through the health department's online Patient Registration System.

Once you complete the registration, you will then be issued a Registry Identification Card that you can use to obtain medical marijuana products at dispensaries. You can expect your card to arrive within three business days after your registration has been approved.

Registry identification card applicants who are under 18 years old, or individuals who are otherwise unable to consent for medical treatment may be registered by an authorized person who is over 21 years old and will serve as the applicant's caregiver.

Certified patients may designate at least one and up to two caregivers who can either be their parent or legal guardian, a person designated by their parent or legal guardian or a person designated by the health department when no parent or legal guardian is available or appropriate.

After you register, you will be billed a non-refundable application fee of $50. This fee may be waived or reduced by the health department in case of financial hardship on the part of the applicant.

Authorized Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

The state government of New York has authorized various dispensing facilities where patients can obtain approved medical marijuana products.

Authorized dispensaries are allowed to serve only two types of medical marijuana products mandated by law – one with an equal ratio of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to cannabidiol (CBD), and one with a low-THC-high-CBD ratio. They can also offer products with varying THC to CBD ratios.

The health department has requested for registered organizations to establish a delivery option for patients who are unable to go to dispensaries because of their medical condition. Patients can also authorize their caregiver to obtain their medical marijuana for them.

Each certified patient or designated caregiver may only be given a 30-day supply of medical marijuana products. The amount may also be adjusted depending on the recommendations or limitations stated by the registered physician on the certification.

Photo : Brett Levin | Flickr  

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