Medical marijuana companies dubious about more growers

December 19, 2016

Published on Politico By Josefa Velasquez December 16, 2016

ALBANY — As the Cuomo administration moves to increase the number of medical marijuana growers and dispensaries, some of the organizations that were awarded licenses in 2015 say there is no need yet for additional growers. 

“The market just hasn’t developed to really sustain an increase in the number of licensees,” said Nicholas Vita, the CEO and vice chairman of Columbia Care. 

The head of another organization, speaking on background, questioned why the state would increase the number of manufacturers when there aren’t enough patients in the program.

The state Department of Health says that 11,291 patients have been certified by their doctors to be eligible for medical marijuana as of earlier this week. That number, some say, is misleading. Some of those deemed eligible aren’t active in the program or have died. And because of the lack of patients, some dispensaries are open only one day a week.

An increase in supply could make it worse for some established companies that are having financial difficulties due to the program’s overhead costs and the fact that organizations negotiate product prices with the state.

POLITICO New York reported earlier this week that the state Department of Health has begun interviewing additional medical marijuana growers in the hopes of expanding the program in the first half of next year. The move comes amid a broader push in recent weeks to expand the program.

The five companies that the state has contacted applied for licenses in 2015, but were not among the top five scorers. The state has asked them for “an update on their financial situation and their business plan,” a Department of Health official said.

The state hopes to phase-in the additional growers and will pay close attention to dispensary locations, given criticism from advocates and patients that there aren’t enough places to get the drug.

But reaching out to additional growers may not be enough.

Columbia Care’s Vita said he hopes that the state examines the program, figures out “what went right and what went wrong” and then creates “a fully transparent opportunity for candidates to apply.”

“It’s important for everyone to look at the program, see how it’s performed and then figure out what needs to be amended,” he said.

While the established companies are dubious of an expansion, advocacy groups are hopeful that it will increase access to medical marijuana.

“Everything that we’re trying to do now is about increasing access for patients … adding geographic diversity, affordability and accessibility,” said Kassandra Frederique of the Drug Policy Alliance. “And anything that the Department of Health is going to do that’s going to address those issues are things that we’re going to be happy about.”