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State's medical marijuana program faces delay, advocates say

A source close to one of the two companies picked to dispense medical marijuana in the Buffalo area says the much-anticipated launch of the state's program is "imminent." Advocates concerned that the program will miss Tuesday's state-imposed deadline say patients have waited long enough.

January 5, 2016 was the state's target date for the distribution of medical marijuana to qualified patients. It was a deadline set following the signing of New York's Compassionate Care Act into law. That happened almost 18 months ago. Yet with word that dispensation appeared unlikely on Tuesday, advocates of medical marijuana expressed frustration over what they say has been a lack of information from health officials.

"There's no transparency with them at all on this program," said Anthony Baney of the Buffalo Cannabis Movement. "Even if you look at the criteria that they evaluated for businesses for the application process, they have three criteria points for 'miscellaneous' and with no footnote explaining what that criteria was."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source close to one of the two companies that will dispense medical marijuana in the Buffalo area conceded that a Tuesday launch appeared unlikely. But, deferring to New York State to provide further details, that source told WBFO the launch of the state's medical marijuana program is "imminent."

Baney, meanwhile, also criticized the selection of sites for the region's only two dispensation centers. Both are in Amherst. One of the sites, to be operated by PharmaCannis, a company based in Illinois, is based in the town's Northpointe Commerce Park. That site, Baney complained, is far from any public transportation routes that many within the City of Buffalo may rely on. The second site, to be operated by Bloomfield Industries of New York City, will be located on South Union Road near Main Street in Williamsville.

Among those awaiting access to medical marijuana is Daniel Ryszka, whose two children suffer from seizures. Professionally, Ryszka is a licensed pharmacist and says medical marijuana, unlike the kind which remains illegal and is smoked, lacks the same psychoactive components and can benefit patients living with numerous conditions including cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Wasting Syndrome, and more.

One of the problems he sees in getting the program off the ground is the legal conflicts between state and federal law. Doctors who could prescribe medical marijuana are required to take a four-hour educational course. Many have not, and Ryszka believes it may be because of worries they'll get in trouble with federal law enforcers.

"It's a very difficult situation for a provider to be in, in this case, schedule a narcotic which is federally illegal," Ryszka said. "The state has allowed it, which makes this appropriate, however they're still under federal jurisdiction, so they're technically getting involved in an illegal operation at the federal level, even though the state does allow it."

Baney says the state's program is too restrictive to be effective. In a written statement released over the weekend, Baney and the Buffalo Cannabis Movement call on state lawmakers to legalize recreational marijuana. 

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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