It was a bittersweet victory for reform advocates and state legislators, who hammered out a compromise bill with Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday, making New York the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana.
Like Minnesota did a month ago when it became the 22nd medical marijuana state, New York chose to eliminate smoking as a means of delivering the herbal medicine. The accepted delivery methods in the bill are edibles, tinctures and vape pens or e-cigs.
"Risks to public health and safety have to be averted,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I believe this bill strikes the right balance.”
A relatively small number of agreed-upon conditions, including cancer, HIV, MS and epilepsy, will reduce the bill's reach. Glaucoma, for instance, was removed several weeks ago.
While applauding the compromise, DPA's Gabriel Sayegh stated, "We are disappointed to learn that eligible conditions have been limited, and despite strong medical evidence about the benefits of smoked and raw cannabis, leaders decided to exclude this as an option for doctors and patients in New York. The decision about the mode of administration for any medication should be left up to doctors and their patients. The cost of purchasing a vaporizer and the extract products will likely leave many low-income patients behind, and there is little research on the long-term health effects of using extracts. We know that overly restrictive programs, like New Jersey’s, can create enormous obstacles for suffering patients."
In the next 18 months, the state Health Department will name five organizations that will be licensed to grow and sell marijuana to patients at 20 dispensary locations (five per organization) around the state. A 7% tax will be added on sales of medical marijuana.
Though all parties signed off on the new language of the Compassionate Care Act, both chambers needed to ratify the bill before the legislative session ended June 20. The Assembly (113-14) and Senate (49-10) both voted in favor. Gov. Cuomo signed the bill on July 7.
“This new law takes an important step toward bringing relief to patients living with extraordinary pain and illness,” he said in a statement. “The legislation I am signing today strikes the right balance between our desire to give those suffering from serious diseases access to treatment, and our obligation to guard against threats to public health and safety. I applaud the lawmakers and advocates whose efforts over the past years were crucial in making medical marijuana a reality in New York State.”
In its report, Medical Marijuana Access in America, ASA already gives New York an F+ grade. The patient's rights organization criticizes New York's new law for having "dosage requirement language imposed on physicans" and not allowing "patients to grow their own medicine" However, the New York section in the report concludes: "The law forbids the smoking of cannabis by patients, but does not explicitly ban patients from accessing cannabis in its dried flower form; however, the Commissioner must approve all forms of medical cannabis that are available to patients."