New York on Friday became the 23rd state to pass a bill legalizing medical marijuana, and the governor is expected to sign it.
The legislation comes 18 years after the first medical marijuana bill was proposed in the state Assembly and after a week of push-and-pull between legislators and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about the details of the program.
The bill had already cleared the Assembly and on Friday passed the Senate, 49-10, after two hours of debate.
“It’s taken a lot of time, a lot of work, a lot of compromise, but we think it strikes the right balance,” Cuomo said Thursday afternoon as he announced that he and lawmakers had reached an agreement on the bill.
The limitations required to reach the compromise disappointed some supporters, however. For instance, under the new law patients will not be permitted to smoke marijuana, but rather must take it in other forms.
"New York has finally done something significant for thousands of patients who are suffering and need relief now,” said Gabriel Sayegh of New York’s Drug Policy Alliance in a statement after the agreement was reached Thursday. “That said, this is not the bill we wanted.”
The bill legalizes medical cannabis as a therapeutic treatment of 10 serious illnesses, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, epilepsy, neuropathic diseases and multiple sclerosis. The list is far more restrictive than the one originally put forth by the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan).
The Legislature acceded to many conditions Cuomo outlined earlier in the week, including the prohibition on smoking marijuana. Instead patients will have to ingest the marijuana orally or by vaporizing. The bill also puts the state health commissioner in control of the program and gives the governor authority to end the program at any time on the recommendation of the health commissioner or state police superintendent.
Earlier in the week, Savino had said she wouldn't budge on the issue of smoking.
Sayegh said he was disappointed that smoking won’t be included, “despite strong medical evidence about the benefits of smoked and raw cannabis.”
“We strongly believe that the decision about the mode of administration of any medication should be left up to doctor and their patients,” he said.
The program will be tightly regulated. Patients certified to use medical marijuana will be issued identification cards and will not be allowed more than a month’s supply. It will be a felony for a physician to certify someone as eligible to use medical marijuana if he or she knew the person didn't have a reasonable need for it.
The bill will go into effect immediately once signed, but registrant identification and licenses for the five companies that will be permitted to grow and distribute medical marijuana won’t be issued for roughly 18 months while the Department of Health develops regulations, trains and certifies doctors and registers patients. It was unclear when Cuomo would sign the bill into law.
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