The bill, passed on a 49-10 state Senate vote, embodies a deal
reached on Thursday between Governor Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers that
would allow patients to inhale vaporized extracts of pot's active
ingredients or to eat them in food, but prohibit smoking of
Exactly how medical marijuana products will be formulated in New
York will be left up to the state's Health Department under the
program, which the governor would have discretion to halt at any
time, and which will expire after seven years, unless lawmaker
Cuomo, a Democrat who had long resisted proposals to legalize
medical pot, in part because of law enforcement issues, said the
compromise bill balances public safety with the health needs of
individuals seeking relief from serious ailments.
The state Assembly passed the measure early Friday by a vote of 117
to 13, hours before final action in the Senate. Cuomo is expected to
sign the measure into law.
Of the 22 other states that already provide some form of legalized
access to marijuana for medical purposes, only one other, Minnesota,
bars smoking of the plant as a way of administering it to patients,
according to the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that lobbied heavily
for the New York bill.
Under New York's measure, the Health Department would license five
private companies in the state to produce and distribute medical
marijuana products through dispensaries.
Patients aged at least 21, who suffer from any one of a list of
specified ailments - epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's
disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, neuropathies,
spinal chord injuries, cancer and HIV/AIDS - would be eligible to
use cannabis as treatment.
The Health Department would have discretion to approve other
"serious conditions" for use of the drug as needed.
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Patients will get a registration card allowing purchase of the drug
from a licensed dispensary; only doctors involved in their direct
care will be allowed to certify need for the drug.
The state Assembly, where liberal Democrats hold sway, has been
passing various versions of medical marijuana bills since the 1990s.
But those measures always faced stiff opposition in the Senate,
where Republicans share control with a breakaway group of Democrats.
Medical marijuana advocates have objected to provisions in the
latest bill requiring participating doctors to take a special
training course, and excluding physician assistants and nurse
practitioners, as well as the ban on smoking, which they say can
provide faster relief.
The Drug Policy Alliance hailed the bill's passage as a major step
in the right direction.
"This bill is far from perfect," said the group's state director,
Gabriel Sayegh. "But if implemented quickly and effectively, this
program will help thousands of sick and suffering New Yorkers, who
need help now."
(Reporting by T.G. Branfalt Jr.; Writing by Edith Honan; Editing by
Steve Gorman, Ken Wills and Jim Loney)
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