New York lawmakers have adopted a legislative medical marijuana program that would place the state among 22 others that allow MMJ. The plan passed by wide margins in both houses of the state Legislature.
The state Assembly voted 113-13 June 20 to approve the Compassionate Care Act, a bill that legalizes medical weed in New York. The Senate approved it by a vote of 49-10.
The Compassionate Care Act adopts a limited form of medical marijuana, though it’s still close to the programs enacted by other states. Patients with certain severe conditions will be allowed to use several forms of the drug – but they won’t be able to smoke it.
The measure won the votes of a wide bipartisan swath of lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican. At least 13 Republican Assembly members voted for it, as did at least 17 GOP senators. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has said he would sign the bill into law.
New York Bill Bans Marijuana Toking
The most notable quirk of the legislation is its ban on toking.
“In the end you have to balance the needs of many of the patients, and the truth is we’re coming to a point where less and less people smoke . . . anyway,” said Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat who sponsored the bill.
Patients will be allowed to use vaporizers, pills, tinctures, and oils. But they won’t be given access to dried plant, as patients are in most other states with MMJ. The only other state to allow medical weed but ban toking is Minnesota.
That state was the latest to adopt medicinal pot, in May. The exclusion of smoking could become a trend if other states see it as a health-positive policy. Still, many marijuana proponents oppose the idea, saying smoking remains the best way to ingest cannabis.
New York Medical Weed to Start by 2016
The program approved by the legislature is a trial, and Cuomo could cancel it if police or the health department advises him to do so. It would provide medicine to patients suffering from at least 10 specific illnesses, including cancer, epilepsy, ALS, and AIDS. More conditions could be added.
Medical weed could become available within 18 months, by early 2016. Patients would be given identity cards, and doctors would prescribe up to 30-day supplies.
“Medical marijuana has the capacity to do a lot of good for a lot of people who are in pain, who are suffering and are in desperate need of a treatment that can provide relief,” Cuomo said.
Physicians would undergo special training to prescribe pot, and could face four years in prison for writing fraudulent prescriptions. Patients who sell their weed, meanwhile, could be charged with a misdemeanor.
Program Expands on Medical Marijuana in New York
There would be 20 dispensaries across the state, with each paying a tax to the local county government. Only indoor cultivation would be allowed.
New York already has medical marijuana, at least in theory. Cuomo announced in January that he would bypass the legislature and start a trial MMJ program using his executive authority.
But that approach likely would have been more restrictive than the policy adopted by lawmakers. Only hospitals would have been allowed to dispense the drug, and then only for a very short list of qualifying conditions.