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Medical marijuana program getting "fine tuning"

New York State lawmakers are expanding the medical marijuana program to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify patients, but will there be enough providers to feel this need?

The program began last January and has been criticized for being too restrictive. The state has worked this week on making it easier for patients to get help. Director of the DENT Cannabis Clinic Dr. Laszlo Mechtler said one of the biggest problems for many patients is distance. 

"There's two dispensaries in Western New York," said Metchler, "which means many of our patients from Olean, Jamestown, to Southern Tier have to drive over an hour to see a dispensary on a monthly basis. A lot of our patients can't do that."

Mechtler believes more certified professionals will create an environment of more consistent treatment.

"We need to expand the program, nurse practitioners, and PA's," said Mechtler. "Not only will they be seeing patients... just think of the follow ups. These individuals need to be followed carefully and their dosage has to be adjusted on a monthly or bi-monthly basis."

That is currently very hard to do. The DENT Cannabis Clinic receives 50-75 calls a day looking for openings. Mechtler said they have 9 New York State certified physicians, but that's not enough.

Credit DENT
Director of DENT Cannabis Clinic Dr. Laszlo Mechtler.

"In Colorado there's a population just over 5 million, where there's 350,000 certified patients," said Mechtler. "In New York State we have a population of 20 million and we have 11,500 patients. So you can see the huge discrepancy between two states... We need the program to be simplified, we need more dispensaries, we need better selections, and we need patients to be able to be seen by providers much easier. This is what's happening when you expand the program to include nurse practitioners."

Mechtler has lobbied for many of the changes that are being made now and feels New York State is listening.

"New York started off with some baby steps and now are trying to fine tune the program to make it successful. The program has allowed my patients to improve their quality of life... It just needs fine tuning."

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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