Chart: New York medical marijuana patient counts surge 183%, but challenges remain for businesses

By Eli McVey

The number of medical cannabis patients in New York has nearly tripled this year, driven by the addition of chronic pain as a qualifying condition and a series of changes aimed at increasing the viability of the state’s medical marijuana program.

The surge has helped buoy New York’s existing MMJ businesses, but the industry still faces some significant headwinds – including the state’s plan to double the number of licensed companies.

Since the end of 2016, patient counts have grown by 20,000 to eclipse the 33,000 mark as of the end of September, which amounts to an increase of 183%.

The addition of chronic pain as a qualifying condition in late March was significant, as it’s typically the top reason patients obtain MMJ in states where it’s allowed. Patient counts spiked in the following months, with MMJ program enrollment in May up 28% over April.

Despite the dramatic increase in patient counts, however, New York’s MMJ market remains relatively small – especially for the fourth-most populous state in the nation.

For example, in Florida – where full-strength MMJ sales began just this year – patient counts are already approaching 40,000.

Steep product prices and a ban on smokable flower have kept many would-be patients away from New York’s legal market. At the same time, many patients are purchasing MMJ from dispensaries only occasionally or not returning after a first visit.

Businesses have taken steps to differentiate themselves from black-market dealers, offering home delivery services and repeat-customer discounts, but there’s no evidence to suggest these efforts have made an appreciable difference.

Program officials are also addressing businesses’ concerns regarding the limited product selection, proposing regulations that will allow dispensaries to sell ointments, lozenges and chewable tablets – in addition to the oils and liquids already on offer.

Additionally, the same set of proposed rules is attempting to boost physician participation in the MMJ program, cutting in half the time it takes for doctors to register as MMJ providers – from four hours to two.

But by a wide margin, the most controversial move the Department of Health has taken to heighten program awareness and increase patient access was to award five new MMJ business licenses, doubling the current number of MMJ companies in the state.

While some believe the new licensees will drive down prices and promote even more patient growth, existing businesses contend that the program suffers from a lack of demand – not a lack of competition – and the addition of five more companies could be ruinous for the entire New York medical marijuana industry.

A lawsuit to prevent the state’s health department from issuing the new licenses is pending.

Looking forward, it’s likely that patient counts in New York will continue to rise. But it’s too soon to tell how MMJ businesses in the state will fare, as any growth in the market may be offset by increased competition.

Eli McVey can be reached at [email protected]

4 comments on “Chart: New York medical marijuana patient counts surge 183%, but challenges remain for businesses
  1. Gina on

    Is there a list of doctors for NYS that you can go to to obtain a card? Where are they dispensaries located in NY? No one tells us the criteria you have to meet or the process to get a medical marijuana card so how would the people know they have access?

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  2. Lawrence Goodwin on

    As an upstate New Yorker, who had the great privilege in 2014 of witnessing so many advocates demand a medical cannabis law in the state Capitol building in Albany, I remain immensely grateful to Eli McVey, Bart Schaneman and MJ Biz Daily for these updates. There’s not nearly enough media coverage of this particular circus, so every little bit of information helps. The NY state Health Dept. (DOH) deserves some credit for loosening up its tight rules this year. Finally. For the most part, the so-called “new” rules were in the original law that was hacked apart by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Democrat who arrogantly took it upon himself to deprive patients of smokeable cannabis flower, edibles, hash and wax, etc. with his threat of a veto (products that, by now, most definitely would be yielding tens of millions in sales, creating a need for at least 50/100 “registered organizations” instead of the current paltry 10/40). The NYDOH patient numbers generally should not be considered an accurate count. That state agency is notoriously secretive and its lapdog bureaucrats, led by Dr. Howard Zucker, hold back the truth. The DOH number reportedly includes all patients in New York who’ve signed up for such “compassionate” health care, including, sadly, those who’ve passed away. Plus, there’s just something so blatantly wrong—causing even worse direct harm to New York’s long-suffering patients—when a handful of cannabis growers can selfishly sue the DOH (out of pure economic greed) to stop the addition of 5 more growers. It was difficult enough to persuade career politicians and heartless bureaucrats to support medical cannabis. New York certainly does not need its “legal” players being jerks to each other from the start. The plaintiffs should call themselves the New York Alliance Against Medical Cannabis.

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