New York Becomes 23rd State to Legalize Medical Marijuana
New York has become the newest state to legalize medical marijuana, after the Senate passed a bill on June 20 that allows cannabis to be prescribed in non-smokeable form only. When the bill is signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, it will make New York the 23rd state to approve medical marijuana -- albeit among the most restrictive.
"We can try to tweak a bill forever, and we can be here not passing any legislation because we don't have a perfect bill," said Sen. Ted O'Brien to USA Today. "But the fact of the matter for me remains this: People are suffering right now. That suffering can be alleviated as soon as we make this available to them."
The legislation enables New Yorkers living with serious and debilitating conditions, including HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, to use medical marijuana as prescribed by their health care provider.
After being passed in the New York Assembly with a bipartisan vote of 91 to 34 on May 27, the Compassionate Care Act hit a snag when Governor Andrew Cuomo called for stricter measures.
The Senate debated the measure for more than two hours with some passionately arguing the medical benefits while others raised concerns about how the Department of Health would regulate the program.
In the end, they agree on a bill that allows the state health commissioner to oversee and certify doctors to prescribe the drug to patients. The drug will be available only in oil-based cannabis edibles or vapors, and patients will not be able to smoke it.
The bill requires the program be up and running within 18 months, and Cuomo is authorized to halt it at any point, should it become a public health hazard. In addition, it would expire after seven years if not reauthorized.
"This is an excellent start of access to the benefits of medical marijuana for numerous illnesses and conditions," said Janet Weinberg, Interim CEO and COO of GMHC. "After an 18-year fight, New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS will finally be able to find--under the guidance of their physicians--relief from the painful and debilitating neuropathy and wasting experienced by long-time survivors, as well as treatment for the nausea caused by antiretroviral medications that they need to stay healthy. This has been a long and hard fight so that others will never have to wait to get relief from the symptoms and side-effects of these serious, profound diseases."