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New York Senate Bill has Major Implications for the Future of the Medical Marijuana Industry

June 17, 2022

On Wednesday, June 1st, 2022 the New York Senate passed a bill that would require public health insurance providers to cover medical marijuana costs in the state Medicaid and workers compensation programs. The bill also allows private insurers to do the same but does not require them to do so. The bill still needs the approval of the New York State Assembly and the signature of the governor of New York before being enacted into law.

The bill allows for medical marijuana to be added to existing billing codes such as “prescription drug,” “covered drug” or “health care service.” If enacted, this bill would go a long way toward destigmatizing marijuana and removing the largest barrier to accessing medical marijuana: cost. This barrier of cost is often cited as one of the biggest reasons why cannabis consumers continue to purchase from the unregulated legacy market.

This is echoed by a justification section in the sponsor memo that states, “Some patients begin treatment only to stop due to inability to pay, while others turn to the black market. Efforts by registered organizations to offer discounts have helped, but are inadequate for many low-income patients… Access to medical marijuana should not be limited to those who can pay out of pocket.”

The main concerns with the bill surrounded existing issues of fraud in the Medicaid system, as well as the issue of insurance providers being federally regulated with the conflicting state level mandate to cover medical marijuana.

A potential concern about insurance coverage for medical cannabis is the potential influence of insurance providers over what strain and form a patient can purchase. Under the proposed bill in New York, insurance providers would have no such control over what is and is not covered. This bill is a monumental step forward for the medical marijuana industry and should be watched closely by states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey that boast some of the highest medical marijuana prices in the nation.