ALBANY — With New York's medical marijuana industry struggling to get off the ground, one licensed pot grower is looking to tap a new market with a vast supply of possible customers — nursing homes.
Etain, one of the five companies licensed by the state Health Department to grow and sell medical marijuana in New York, is reaching out to senior and long-term health care centers and offering to help their patients obtain medicinal pot.
The White Plains based company, which is the state's only family-owned marijuana grower, has already reached an agreement with a nursing home in the Bronx to provide medical marijuana services. It is believed to be one of the first such arrangements in the state.
"We consider it a very vital of our strategy for outreach and building a customer base," said Hillary Peckham, Etain's founder and chief operations officer who declined to name the Bronx nursing home involved in the deal. "It is really important because right now there really isn't a demand for the product."
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Launched just over a year ago, New York's medical pot program has struggled to attract patients. As of this week, only 13,389 patients had completed the cumbersome process to obtain state certification to receive the drug and officials estimate that only about half that number have gone on to become repeat customers.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that less than 900 doctors have completed the state-mandated process to certify patients for medical pot, which, under state law, can only be used to treat a limited number of conditions, including chronic pain.
In December, a trade organization representing New York's five growers warned in a letter to the Health Department that they were "sustaining tremendous operating losses" and would be hard-pressed to survive if the department followed through on plans to add producers.
State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), a proponent of medical marijuana who sponsored the legislation that legalized the drug in New York, applauded Etain's efforts.
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"It is pretty clear that the licensed growers are going to have to go out there and do more aggressive outreach," said Savino.
Under the arrangement being offered by Etain, the company would work with a nursing home and help its medical staff register with the state to certify patients for the drug. The company would then, under the state's newly-authorized home delivery program, deliver the pot directly to patients or family members, who would administer the drug themselves.
Peckham conceded that some facilities have been reluctant to get involved in medical marijuana because of the myriad state and federal regulations that must be navigated, including prohibitions against doctors and nurses being able to administer the drug directly to patients.
Over time, however, Peckham hopes more facilities will see benefit of being able to offer another service to their patients.
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Stephen Hanse, president of the New York State Health Facilities Association, which represents nursing home, believes more long-term health care facilities will become interested in medical marijuana.
"At the end of the day, we are in the business of providing patient care and if this something that would be of benefit to patients, I believe it will catch on," Hanse said.
However, State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long, who opposed the legalization of medical marijuana, was critical of Etain's approach, arguing it would only worsen drug abuse problems in the state.
"We have enough problems with legal prescription drugs," Long said. "What about all the employees of nursing homes that will now be able to get their hands on the drug?"Send a Letter to the Editor