Practitioners may choose not to be included on the public list

ROCHESTER — The state is expanding the list of qualifying illnesses for medical marijuana. This means more people may be interested in trying it. But, the public list of doctors willing to prescribe it locally isn't exactly long.

The state maintains a website that shows which practitioners are certified to prescribe medical marijuana. In Monroe County, there are eight on that site compared to Erie and Onondaga Counties, which both have more than 25 providers. Ontario, Livingston and Steuben counties have one practitioner each on the list; none are listed for Wayne, Yates or Seneca counties.

Matt Hellaby has been living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). "There are a lot of people suffering," he says.

Hellaby has been interested in medical marijuana for months. "Really, just to get off the other medicine,” he said. “Sometimes I might sleep the whole day and I'm just tired, I don't like the side effects."

He wasn't eligible until the state recently added PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.

"I was waiting, I didn't think it would take that long," he said.

Hellaby's doctor isn't approved to prescribe it, and when he went to the state's website, he wondered why there are only a few here in Monroe County that are.

"Physicians have to choose to be included in that list publicly in order for that to show up online," says Chris Bell, executive director of the Monroe County Medical Society.

Meaning, there are dozens of other providers approved locally that choose to shield themselves from the public list.

"It's a slow growth process in New York state — it's still not something that is legal from a federal government perspective so there can be some concerns around what is publicly available regarding what physicians are doing,” Bell said.

Bell's advice for everyone is to start with their own doctor. If he or she doesn't prescribe it, they can access the full list of providers that do and that list is growing daily.

"There are just over 1,300 prescribes in New York state — originally it was just physicians, and that has been expanded to include nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants," he adds.

Hellaby found a doctor and got an appointment. After a consultation, he was written a prescription for medical marijuana.

"I feel relieved just knowing there's another option,” Hellaby said. “Maybe I don't have to try it tomorrow but when I want to, I got the option.”

Keep in mind, medical marijuana is not covered by insurance. Also, if you're calling a doctor solely to try and see if you qualify, that office visit may not be covered either. So, ask your doctor or provider upfront about costs.