NEW YORK — New York is now the 23rd state to authorize marijuana as a medical treatment — though it will have one of the more restrictive programs in the country.
Under legislation signed into law on Saturday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, patients with one of 10 diseases will be able to obtain non-smokeable versions of the drug. Officials chose to prohibit distribution of marijuana plant material in order discourage non-medical use.
The law requires medical marijuana be ingested or vaporized. The details of exactly how the drug will be administered will be worked out by the state health department.
The law “gets us the best that medical marijuana has to offer in the most protected, controlled way possible,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said Monday at a ceremonial bill signing in New York City. “This is the smartest approach that any state has taken thus far.”
Some advocates argue the law is too restrictive, however, and said they’ll push lawmakers to expand it. Of the 23 states with medical marijuana laws, only one — Minnesota — prohibits the smokeable drug. Advocates also say the state should allow people with more kinds of illnesses to utilize the program.
“It’s a first step and it’s an important step that will improve thousands of peoples’ lives,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state operations at the Washington D.C.- based Marijuana Policy Project, said of New York’s law. “But it will leave others out.”
The first medication isn’t expected to be available for at least 18 months as state regulators, physicians and potential distributors of the drug work to implement the new program.
Under the law, the state will approve and regulate up to five businesses authorized to grow and distribute the drug. The operators could each have up to four dispensaries statewide.
Patients would get prescriptions from physicians approved by the state to participate in the program. Approved conditions include AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal cord injuries, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies and Huntington’s Disease.