Friday morning was crisp in upstate New York, even in my well-insulated home. I woke up with an all too familiar ache in my ankle and my first step out of bed was excruciating, as pain shot through the inside of it. After a few steps, I was used to the pain again and working on walking through it, but it was mostly just hobbling.

I knew it was going to be a tough day; I had to work in a half-hour. Even though my office is only a few feet away, the only thing that would slow down the throbbing in my ankle was to elevate it and that’s something I couldn’t do for three more hours.

Worse, I didn’t have any medication. And no, I don’t mean pills to pop.

When you need a clear head for work, taking opioids isn’t possible. Plus, I’ve found I like them too much after taking them for a few weeks and don’t want to go down that road – I’m a mother and a wife, my family needs me.  

Ibuprofen rips up my stomach and does virtually nothing to take away the swelling and pain. Icy Hot and similar muscle rubs do nothing. I do, however, wrap my ankle in a heating pad which helps improve circulation while I work. Even on hot days, my right foot can feel like ice.

You may be wondering why I don’t have any medical cannabis if I live in New York, a state with a legal program for patients. Simply put, our medical cannabis program in New York is terrible.

The most significant determinant for me is cost. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dysfunction of the state’s plan – such as a lack of product selection, limited locations and a small list of approved conditions that leaves a lot of people on the black market.

New York State doesn’t allow any dry flower for patients. The only products are oils, ointments, edibles, and capsules. This is to prevent people from smoking their medicine, which is seen as unhealthy. However, health officials are starting to think twice about that statement now that the country is in a vaping crisis from illegal vape cartridges – a problem created by the country’s prohibition of cannabis.

I prefer using an oil vape pen to consume my medicine. It’s discreet, it’s neat (smoking cannabis can be messy), it’s easy and it gives me the same near-instant pain relief as smoking. Living in an illegal state makes it hard for people without much money to try different products; such as properly prepared edibles and concentrates, vape cartridges, shatter, dabs, and live rosin.

While some people may think these products aren’t medicinal, they’d be wrong. Some patients don’t need a high dose but pain patients and anyone going through chemotherapy needs that large dose quickly and that’s what these concentrates offer.

I was lucky enough to try legit medical cannabis carts the first time around; finding them on the black market wasn’t easy. I’m sure if I was in New York City, I could find just about anything but sometimes it’s easier to find things I don’t want. Things such as opiates, heroin, and meth (or so I’ve been told by third parties) are easier to find than quality cannabis products.

At the beginning of this year, I was desperate for medicine that I could afford. The cartridges I bought looked legit – they came in boxes with designs, barcodes and looked identical to the images of legal cartridges on websites for recreational dispensaries in states like California, Colorado, and Washington.

The black-market oil inside looked fine too and they tasted the same as the medical carts I’d already tried plus they were $40 cheaper than the ones at the medical dispensary.

There turned out to be a glaring difference. When you got a little more than halfway through it, the taste of the oil was gross, harsh, and chemical-like. I wasn’t in pain and there weren’t a lot of news stories about illegal vape products, so, I didn’t think anything of it.

I did stop using them after about 90 days and went back to dry flower and I’m happy that I did. I may not be here today if I kept using black market vape cannabis oil because they were the ones just named this week as being the cause of the massive vaping illness outbreak—Dank Cartridges.

I’m not going to lie, I’m still scared. I haven’t touched a Dank Vape in four months but, in the back of my mind, I wonder if I should go to the doctor and say something. I can’t help but think that if I spent the money (that I don’t have) for the medical card, I would have at least had safe medicine.

It’s unfortunate but many of us with qualifying conditions (chronic pain) choose to go to the black market and the state’s own records are proof; only 323 patients are enrolled in New York’s medical cannabis program. As mentioned above, the reasons for these pitiful enrollment numbers are cost, selection and access.

Cost is a big issue in New York’s medical cannabis program. Medical cannabis isn’t covered by health insurance, so you pay full price for your doctor’s appointment to get qualified (up to $250) and you need to get re-certified every year at the same price. If you receive some type of public assistance, you might qualify for a lower cost of $75.

Oh, and patients can only see a physician certified by the state to be issued a medical cannabis recommendation. Once you have that slip of paper with one of the fourteen qualifying conditions in New York, you can apply for a medical cannabis card for $50 and yes, it needs to be renewed every year.

Let’s not forget access – the closest medical dispensaries to me are 45 minutes away and there are only two, which sell basically the same five products.

One silver lining for some residents is the legalization of recreational cannabis in Massachusetts, with dispensaries located about 30 minutes from the New York border. However, unless New Yorkers consume the products in the other state, we must break federal law to bring the products over the border.

Luckily, the DEA (as far as I know) doesn’t have anyone on the line arresting people who went to the nearby state for a joint, vape cartridge or some potent gummies. This is most likely because of restrictions on how much you can purchase in Massachusetts, which is limited to just a few items at a time.

On the New York side, the elected officials that failed to pass recreational cannabis this year, decriminalized it. Residents caught with dry flowers will have their product confiscated and get a $50 or $100 fine depending on the weight. However, there’s one catch – the new law only covers flowers (which isn’t legal in New York’s medical program) and all concentrates / edibles are still illegal which can bring much more than a fine for anyone caught with these products.

– CBD Social Network user (Christinedantz)

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