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Ep.286: NY State Senator, Diane Savino

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep.286: NY State Senator, Diane Savino

Ep.286: NY State Senator, Diane Savino

New York State Senator Diane Savino joins us and share her thoughts on the New York Cannabis program. Her thoughts are, it’s going. She notes that it had a slow start but that it was designed be tightly controlled and highly regulated and that it’s lived up to that reputation. Regarding the Department of Health and the Commissioner of Health- Diane shares that they’ve been very responsive to changes as changes have been proposed because they recognize this is a health issue. She doesn’t pull punches- could more be done, absolutely- her biggest concern continues to be lack of participation among doctors. It’s not possible to visit every doctor in the state and convincing each efficacy of medical cannabis. So to that end, no matter where you live, consider this a public service announcement to tell your doctor about medical cannabis.

Transcript:

Speaker 1: state Senator Diane Savino returns New York State Senator Diane Savino, returns and sheriffs or thoughts on the New York cannabis program. She knows that it's had a slow start, but it was designed to be tightly controlled and highly regulated and that it's lived up to that reputation regarding the Department of Health. The senator shares that they've been very responsive to changes as changes have been proposed because they recognize this as a health issue. She doesn't pull punches more, could be done. Her biggest concern continues to be the lack of participation among doctors. It's not possible to visit every doctor in the state and convince each of the efficacy of medical cannabis, so to that end, no matter where you live, considered this a public service announcement to tell your doctor about medical cannabis. Welcome to cannabis economy on your host Seth Adler. Check us out on social with a hammock. Can economy that's two ends and the word economy, state Senator Diane Savino. And so

Speaker 2: Diane Savino one more time. How are you? I'm fine. How are you? I'm doing all right. We, you know, have been in Vancouver together. We've been in your office together and now we're at this conference, the javits center at the javits center together. Even so I guess, you know, I'll ask with. I'll start with a nice broad question. Your thoughts on how the cannabis program is going in New York. Well, it's, it's going to, it was a slow start, but you know, the one thing I will say about the New York program, it was designed to be tightly controlled and highly regulated and it certainly lived up to that reputation of anybody who's in the industry here. And you know, the one thing though I will say about the Department of Health and the Commissioner of Health, they've been very responsive to changes as they've been proposed because I think they recognize that we're dealing with people's health, but could we do more?

Speaker 2: Absolutely. Our biggest concern continues to be the lack of participation among doctors. Yeah. Uh, and I, you know, short of visiting every doctor in the state and convincing them of the efficacy of medical marijuana, I'm kind of at my wits end, so I'm hoping like events like this where we begin to normalize marijuana in the public domain and people see that you can have a convention where you see the industry president and you see elected officials and you see news, the news industry here in UC policymakers and you see the business world. Doctors may say, Hey, you know what, maybe I don't have to worry so much about, uh, you know, these fake concerns about medical marijuana. But that really has been the biggest stumbling block is the doctors which leads to the patients and the patient counts remaining low. Exactly. As far as a education to the patient, it's, you're saying no, the, the, the actual bottleneck is with the physician.

Speaker 2: Absolutely. I mean, there's only so much that we can do. Remember, you know, patients are uh, uh, when they go into see their doctor and the people who are eligible for medical marijuana are sick. People that do they have a chronic debilitating condition or they're suffering from severe and chronic pain and one of the things that the department did earlier this year is they added severe and chronic pain is a qualifying condition in and of itself, which is fantastic. So your, these are patients who are sick and they don't want to get into a debate with their doctor. You know, people are socialized to trust their doctors judgment and not to question it. You know, how many times have you gone to the doctor yourself and you leave there saying, you know, I should've said something I should have asked, but you, you're intimidated by your doctor.

Speaker 1: state Senator Diane Savino returns New York State Senator Diane Savino, returns and sheriffs or thoughts on the New York cannabis program. She knows that it's had a slow start, but it was designed to be tightly controlled and highly regulated and that it's lived up to that reputation regarding the Department of Health. The senator shares that they've been very responsive to changes as changes have been proposed because they recognize this as a health issue. She doesn't pull punches more, could be done. Her biggest concern continues to be the lack of participation among doctors. It's not possible to visit every doctor in the state and convince each of the efficacy of medical cannabis, so to that end, no matter where you live, considered this a public service announcement to tell your doctor about medical cannabis. Welcome to cannabis economy on your host Seth Adler. Check us out on social with a hammock. Can economy that's two ends and the word economy, state Senator Diane Savino. And so

Speaker 2: Diane Savino one more time. How are you? I'm fine. How are you? I'm doing all right. We, you know, have been in Vancouver together. We've been in your office together and now we're at this conference, the javits center at the javits center together. Even so I guess, you know, I'll ask with. I'll start with a nice broad question. Your thoughts on how the cannabis program is going in New York. Well, it's, it's going to, it was a slow start, but you know, the one thing I will say about the New York program, it was designed to be tightly controlled and highly regulated and it certainly lived up to that reputation of anybody who's in the industry here. And you know, the one thing though I will say about the Department of Health and the Commissioner of Health, they've been very responsive to changes as they've been proposed because I think they recognize that we're dealing with people's health, but could we do more?

Speaker 2: Absolutely. Our biggest concern continues to be the lack of participation among doctors. Yeah. Uh, and I, you know, short of visiting every doctor in the state and convincing them of the efficacy of medical marijuana, I'm kind of at my wits end, so I'm hoping like events like this where we begin to normalize marijuana in the public domain and people see that you can have a convention where you see the industry president and you see elected officials and you see news, the news industry here in UC policymakers and you see the business world. Doctors may say, Hey, you know what, maybe I don't have to worry so much about, uh, you know, these fake concerns about medical marijuana. But that really has been the biggest stumbling block is the doctors which leads to the patients and the patient counts remaining low. Exactly. As far as a education to the patient, it's, you're saying no, the, the, the actual bottleneck is with the physician.

Speaker 2: Absolutely. I mean, there's only so much that we can do. Remember, you know, patients are uh, uh, when they go into see their doctor and the people who are eligible for medical marijuana are sick. People that do they have a chronic debilitating condition or they're suffering from severe and chronic pain and one of the things that the department did earlier this year is they added severe and chronic pain is a qualifying condition in and of itself, which is fantastic. So your, these are patients who are sick and they don't want to get into a debate with their doctor. You know, people are socialized to trust their doctors judgment and not to question it. You know, how many times have you gone to the doctor yourself and you leave there saying, you know, I should've said something I should have asked, but you, you're intimidated by your doctor.

Speaker 2: And so we've set up this. Unfortunately the system where if a doctor doesn't want to participate and they're and they're unwilling to help their patient, the patient really has nowhere to turn. So one of the things we've really been pushing very hard on this for the Department of Health to release the names of the doctors who are participating. And they finally did that. And what we've seen is, is still far too few. But we're hoping with the addition of nurse practitioners now and physician's assistants, that that'll spur a little competition among doctors, so that was a win, right, to talk about the machinations of that happening. Well again, we were seeing that we had a low patient count of because they could not find doctors who are willing to participate. Doctors were reluctant to get involved in the program for a variety of reasons that really had no basis in truth and we had included in the law that the Department of Health could add nurse practitioners at some point because in New York state nurse practitioners and physician's assistants like doctors are to write scripts for scheduled to substances. So we convinced the department of Health that it was in their interest to add those two categories and they did a. So we're hoping that that will spur some competition. Doctors hate people horning in on their, what they call their scope of practice, hoping a little competition will get them going.

Speaker 3: Competition's pretty much good for anybody, right? Everybody. Doctors really hate it when they see other people trying to get involved in what they think is really their, you know, area. Well then I think that this would be a good time for the anecdote that I have for you, which is my buddy has a very severe case of Crohn's and because of the tightly regulated a system here in New York, he does have his medical card, excellent. A patient, however he was going to one of the, a license holders, what going to one of the dispensary's not getting the medication that he needed as far as a level of medicine and you know, compared to price nor was there the inventory of the type of selections of different types of medication for him. So we went up to Maine and participated in their program. We had to talk to their department of Health. He got a, he showed them his New York card and then we went up there and he spent hundreds of dollars doctors with the dispensary's there in Maine. So what are your thoughts on that? I'm surprised he was able to do that in Maine for reciprocity. Absolutely. Absolutely. You're telling, I mean we, you know, I thank goodness I host cannabis economy so we could have gone to Nevada, but there's a plane involved so we went up. To me

Speaker 2: it's one of the things that we're hoping to add also at some point is a reciprocity agreement and you hit on one of the most important problems that patients to see. So suppose you're a patient, you qualify under the program, you happen to have a doctor. Sure. You know who's enlightened on this issue and wants to provide, you know, the options that their patient needs and they in there, they recommend their patient and you find a, you know, a dispensary that's close enough that you can actually access it. Sure. The cost of medical marijuana in New York state is still far too high for far too many patients and have. And because medical marijuana is not covered by insurance for many patients, it is far cheaper to go into the black market. The only way we can bring down the price in New York state is to expand the program, expand the number of patients.

Speaker 2: Because it's a, you know, it's a market that is driven by demand, so demand will bring down, will, will bring down the price. We don't have a problem with production at the moment. We actually have too much product available. We don't have enough places to disperse the product and we don't have enough people buying the product. Right. The only thing that will solve that is demand. So that's one thing. The second thing is unless and until Washington takes its head out of its ass on marijuana in general, no medical marijuana in particular, this is going to continue to be a problem.

Speaker 3: So on the licenses, staying in New York for a second and then we're going to go broader. But as far as the license that we do have a. You talked about expansion of a program. Okay, fine. We're, we're okay with production, we're not okay with storefronts. And so you know, there's a kind of a thought to increase the number of licenses. The license current license holders don't like that. There's a little bit of a lawsuit, right?

Speaker 2: Yes. So the the Department of Health is, is making a decision which they have the right to under the statute that we adopted to expand the number of licenses, I believe that that's there. They're making a mistake. If they expand, they expand the number of license to full licenses. I've made the suggestion to them that they can and they should do limited licenses with full expansion at a point at a date to be determined in the future somehow tied to patient, right, exactly. Tied to patient count. The statute allows the expansion of additional of have limited licenses for dispensary only [inaudible] and I believe that they could set up a dynamic where they could issue limited licenses right now, did we not know where patients are better sense than we did when we first adopted the statutes. We could issue licenses that would allow for the opening of new dispensary's.

Speaker 2: They could purchase wholesale from the existing cultivators who are sitting on excess product, kind of stabilize the market a little bit and begin to grow the, no pun intended, the patient base, and then at the point in time where you had more patients then sure what the exact number would be at that point. You could justify. Yeah, I believe when the need for more cultivation centers where you go and it would also give, I believe the new license holders, the time to develop the financial model and the build out part of the problem for the current license holders. These, they were held to such a tight timeframe for the implementation, but they had to lay out a tremendous amount of money in a very short period of time. Is it? Exactly. And so they are, you know, literally hemorrhaging money and you know, some people don't quite understand that even though the state licenses these entities, the state does not have a nickel in their dime. You know, the only interest we have is the public interest, but they bear the entire financial burden of this industry, which is tremendous on so many levels.

Speaker 3: So that brings us to insurance here in New York state. Right. So let's just keep our eyes on what we have and you and I talked about the fact that maybe. Sorry for pointing at you. I got very excited. Yeah. Um, but no one can see you pointing at me. Don't worry. That's fair. Uh, but, uh, you and I talked about the possibility of the Department of Health and you know, kind of allowing for this as far as being on my insurance now there was a lawsuit in New Jersey which ruled that, yeah, you know, insurance companies do have to cover, you know, so short of a lawsuit. What can we do as far as kind of getting

Speaker 2: this going. The New Jersey case, if I'm, if I'm not mistaken, applied only to a worker's comp. So that's right. Yes. What we, what we were able to do here in New York is clarify at least one area because when, if a patient in New York did manage to find a doctor that was willing to participate, there was this missing misinterpretations that that that visit was not covered by any visits to that doctor. We're not covered by insurance because the end result was the patient was being a, was going to be using medical marijuana to treat the condition, which is just a complete misinterpretation. Doctor's visit as a doctor's visit, a well visit, a initial consultation, et cetera. It doesn't matter. So but many doctors didn't understand it. Patients didn't understand it and doctors were making the rules up as they went along. So they could charge $500 for that doctor's visit at that whatever they wanted to.

Speaker 2: Absolutely. So we felt that we need clarity on that. So I met with the Department of Financial Services Superintendent, which oversees insurance in New York state and they issued a decree, a decree and say an opinion, so to speak, and they irregulatory regulatory opinion and they circulated circulated among all insurers, which of course helps to circulate it among all the doctors in their networks that clarify that if you are a treating physician and this is a patient that's in that you are treating, that you are to bill their insurance company for those visits. Fair enough. What about the medicine itself that we can't do yet and largely that's because the product is a schedule one substance and federal insurance law will. Most insurers are regulated by the federal government even if they are also regulated by a local or state government and the federal government continues to maintain that marijuana is a schedule one substance which brings us to Washington.

Speaker 2: Yes, and so we've got a number of things happening. The my least favorite of which is jeff sessions writing to Congress and saying, Hey, you're rohrabacher farr amendment. That means that I can't go after medical marijuana programs in states. Take that away. So that I can go after them because of the 1970 controlled substances. Very, very, very concerning. Uh, you know, when, when the president was running for office, he often said, I'm pretty benign things about medical marijuana. He, he wasn't very positive about recreational or adult use marijuana, but he said more than once he understood medical marijuana, he believed that people used it and got relief from it and he wasn't interested in doing anything to interfere with it. In fact, he said things in a more positive way than, than Secretary Clinton did, which was kind of interesting, but some, another subject. But when he got elected, you know, unexpectedly and still be one.

Speaker 2: One of the things I did is I wrote to him as president elect and then to the transition team. And then again after he got sworn in as my capacity as a state legislator explaining the New York program and then, you know, appealing to his first sympathy towards medical marijuana and secondly to his senses a businessman. And he, because he also talked many, many times on the campaign trail about stupid, what he would describe as stupid federal policies and their, and the implications they would have on business. Right? Well, there is certainly no more stupid federal policy and the implication on business then the way the federal government treats medical marijuana, you know, when I laid out the argument, it's a s at the time of $7,000,000,000 industry, 28, January 28 states. Um, and so you have an issue of states' rights versus the federal government. You have a federal regulatory system that's strangling entrepreneurship and you know, industry and you also have a public health policy issue. Unfortunately, no one ever responded to me, which I was somewhat dismayed about, but I'm preparing to go down to Washington after our session in Albany is done next week. Oh, there's a conference down there in July, which I'll be speaking out. And then I'm going to meet with some of the congressional members, including the cannabis caucus, which

Speaker 3: that sounds. They have one in Washington. And I know all the, all the folks there. Right? And I say this, you know, to say that while I was preparing all of this, we were all somewhat blindsided the other day by this letter from Jeff sessions, right? I think everyone knows jeff sessions is someone somewhat antagonistic towards marijuana policy. Good word. But this is, this is not, this is beyond his own personal appeal and he's, he's looking to really be aggressive against it and it just goes to show you how out of touch sometimes Washington can be with the American people. Yeah. Well it's just one guy because you know, incredibly powerful individual. This is the problem, you know, polling. If you talk to voters that are with us, have you talked to lawmakers on with microphones? Most of them are with us. Thank you. Senator Savino.

Speaker 3: If you talk to lawmakers without Mike's, most of them are with us. Without question. It's this one guy. That's the issue here, right? So that's fine. But that does get to you writing a letter to the president elect, gets to your kind of a approach to politics, which is I'm elected as a Democrat, but I also would like to get stuff done. So I come from the left. I try to be in the middle is what I say. I read everything from the New Yorker, which is very believable to the national review now, which I never used to read so that I can get a spectrum of news, a spectrum of information. Can you explain for folks that are outside of New York, how you work in the New York Senate, who you're sitting with, who you caucus with and how that all works and maybe what we can all do? Well, I am A. I'm a practical politician. Fair enough. First

Speaker 2: to allow guys killing you. It's killing me in the first and foremost. Once you get elected campaigning as opposed to end. You know, and I think for far too many elected officials, they, they, they forgot that lesson. You know, you watch what's happening in Washington. They're not in a, they don't belong to political parties anymore. They belonged to almost like teams, you when you're, you have to stay on the team and you're supposed to vote this way without question. And, and I think unfortunately that has harmed modern politics in so many ways. You're supposed to get elected to and work with each other to find solutions to problems. That's the first responsibility of an elected official. If you decide that you're unwilling to talk to people that don't agree with you, the first thing, the first thing they happen is you won't learn anything. The second thing is you wanna accomplish anything either, right?

Speaker 2: Because in Washington we see this bitter partisanship and how it's divided the nation and spilling over into state governments as well. And so in New York state, in the New York state Senate, I belonged to a group called the independent democratic conference. The IDC, the IDC, there are eight of us. We are a third separate conference and the New York State Senate. Uh, we were, we were created seven years ago after a two years of the, of a democratic majority, which was the first one in 43 years in the New York state senate. And in, during that two year period of time, it was a disaster. People can look it up in wikipedia if they want to be a disaster, was yelling in such corruption jail. We expelled a member. There was a Senate q and a second set. It was just nuts. But more importantly, everything that we had promised the voters that we would do differently, um, on issues, um, progressive issues, we delivered on nothing and we would just, we decided that we didn't want to be part of that team approach anymore.

Speaker 2: That our side was always right and everything that was wrong with government was the other party. And so it was controversial and it continues to be a, we are in a coalition government with the group with a governing majority which happens to be Republicans. And so for her left left leaning Democrats that is like, you know, like anathema. Once again, guys caucus with the republic, we don't caucus with them. We call with ourselves in a governing coalition. Why do I think that as a New Yorker? Because that's what reporters, right or what are we saying here? Let's just say government. There's a coat is a majority coalition. There were 32 republicans who control the New York state Senate without us being charged no matter what. We entered into a governing coalition with them where we don't have equal partnership obviously because there's only eight of us, but over the period of time that we've been in existence, we have forced the Republicans to vote and take up issues that traditionally they would never want to do.

Speaker 2: Things like adopting a paid family leave program, medical marijuana. I'm raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Things that no one that Republicans don't normally want to do and people would say they would never do it. Just this past year we took on the issue of raising the age of criminal responsibility here in New York. You know, New York is oftentimes are considered very progressive, but on a lot of things were really not very conservative because we're a very big state, you know, upstate and downstate of two different places. There are so many. The five boroughs are very absolutely from Staten Island, right? So there are so many things you know, that we're able to use our influence to force the debate on, in the New York state senate. And you know that for some people they don't like that because the, when you're on a team, you want your team to be able to claim victory all the time.

Speaker 2: You don't like to share credit. And I think that's really one of the problems these days. If the Republicans in Washington, uh, you'll see this, if republicans were to do something positive for the American people, the Democrats would hate it because then the Republicans get to claim credit for it. Even if it was good. And vice versa. If the Democrats solved a problem that the Republicans thought were important, they would be angry because then they wouldn't be able to take credit for it. And that's what's wrong. It's supposed to be about doing what's important for people not for party, for instance, to bring it back, we're talking about healthcare. We're talking about the fact that insurance has to be we. It has to come from federal, so where do you come down on a Obamacare, what you've seen in the current house, a healthcare proposal and what you haven't seen from the Senate's be a proposal because it is not.

Speaker 2: It's an obamacare and its potential replacement or the perfect example of what I'm talking about. The reason why obamacare has been a problem is because it was devised by one party and one party only. They'd refused to take into consideration the concerns of the Republican Combo. I didn't want to listen to them. I hear though that there were amendments and there was. You say you're not allowed. You're not allowed when you're in the minority party, not allowed to participate. You don't count, but I see wrong with that. I've heard that that is not the case, that there was amendments that were submitted. Nonsense. That's kind of biggest mistake with obamacare was again, they lived in an echo chamber number one. Number two, okay. Number two, what was wrong with obamacare was a tremendous giveaway to the insurance industry. Absolutely so now in lock step with you there now, but because you shut out the minority party, you gave them a battering ram to beat you over the head with for the next eight years, which is what's happening.

Speaker 2: Although exactly fast forward eight years later and they're doing it now, the Republicans tend to do in the same thing to the Democrats crazy whenever it comes out of the repeal replacement, whatever is going to be a tremendous giveaway to the insurance industry and that's the problem, but the most important lesson that you come out of this is when you're trying to solve a problem as complicated as healthcare and insurance law. You need buyin from both parties. Everybody has to have skin in this game, right? Because you need to go out there and sell it to the American people. When it's that complicated, they need to believe that every. That it's that this is that this is the right decision and the only way they'll believe that is if you have elected officials speaking together and saying, this is a good compromise. We all came together and found the middle road that works for everybody. You can have one person saying this is the greatest thing we ever did, and someone else saying, no, you're all a bunch of crooks.

Speaker 3: If I'm listening to you and I have never thought about getting into politics, but all of a sudden I'm listening to a reasonable elected official. What would be your suggestion for folks that maybe shouldn't don't want to be in elected politics, but we need reasonable people? What would you say?

Speaker 2: We need reasonable people. I mean, I think that's the most important thing. We don't need hard liners in either party. We really don't. We need people who are willing to sit down. We're willing to find common ground and work towards solutions, you know, and this idea that the perfect is always the enemy of the good is destroying modern politics.

Speaker 3: There you go. All right, so next time over lunch. Last question. As always, questioned the song, the a I need for your soundtrack of your life. A song, one track that's got to be on there. You probably don't remember the song you gave me last time. Oh, you do? Blue Sky from the allman brothers, which again, I'm from New York. I'm giving you southern rock. Come on, I can't help it, but this is to your point. You know what I mean? I'm open minded. I hear from the answer being no, thank you so much senator by and there you have state Senator Diane Savino.

Speaker 1: Very much appreciate her. Updating us on what's happening. You know, uh, I would say behind the scenes, but it's public office, so right there in the public. Sorry, with the cannabis program here in New York, as far as my own reading is concerned, it now includes everything from the nation to Breitbart. GotTa understand where everybody's coming from. If we're going to bring them together.

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Cannabis Economy is a real-time history of legal cannabis. We chronicle how personal and industry histories have combined to provide our current reality.