In response to patient and advocate concerns that New York's medical marijuana program is too restrictive to serve many of its potential beneficiaries, the state health department today announced a series of reforms intended to make medical THC more accessible, including home delivery state-wide as soon as next month.

Since the state's first medical marijuana dispensary opened its doors in January, off Union Square at 212 East 14th Street, patients have argued that there are too few dispensaries in New York, too widely dispersed—New York City has been allotted four, in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. It doesn't help that many patients suffer from chronic pain, making travel of any kind difficult.

"In many cases, patients with serious health conditions cannot leave their homes and have difficulty accessing medical marijuana products," said the Department of Health in a release Tuesday. "Within the next week, the Department will issue guidance to the registered organizations outlining requirements that must be addressed in their home delivery plan submissions." According to the NY Times, the service will be in effect "quite likely" by the end of September.

This week's reforms do not address New York's restriction against smoking the plant for medical purposes. Patients must either vaporize THC oils, take a THC pill, or absorb it under the tongue.

The state says it also plans to certify nurses to recommend marijuana to patients—currently only a doctor's privilege—and look into the possibility of creating a public database of doctors registered with the medical marijuana program. This, they argue, will make it easier for patients to locate doctors. "Within the next 30 days, the Department will send a letter to all currently registered practitioners to determine whether they are willing to have their names listed publicly on the Department’s webpage," DOH said.

But advocates say that the federal government's recent refusal to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act—a categorization for drugs that don't have medical use, that also includes heroin—is a significant setback on the way to marijuana's full assimilation into the medical world.

Doctor Amy Piperato of Stony Point, New York told the Times that some doctors figure, “Why put yourself at risk of liability of recommending a Schedule I product?”

Medical marijuana is also not covered by health insurance in New York State. While the DOH is not addressing this rule, the state says it will immediately start waiving the $50 patient and caregiver application fee for those with "financial hardship."

Under current state law, access to said cards is limited to those suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, intractable spasticity caused by damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and Huntington's disease. The DOH says it is now considering expanding that list to include chronic pain, stating that it has "already begun conducting a review" of this possibility.

The DOH also plans to register five more organizations to manufacture and dispense medical marijuana over the next two years.