New York might soon join 22 other states that have a medical marijuana program, even if it comes with strict restrictions that Gov. Andrew Cuomo said struck the right balance between care and public safety.
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The deal comes days after the Cuomo administration leaked a list of demands for a passable bill, many of which were made it into the newly formulated bill.
State Sen. Jeff Klein, the legislative body's co-leader, told reporters he expected Republican co-leader Sen. Dean Skelos allow senators a vote before the session's end Thursday.
"Medical marijuana has the capacity to a lot of good for a lot of people who are in pain and suffering, and are in desperate need of a treatment that can provide relief," Cuomo said at a press event before adding that there were "risks that have to be averted."
Medical marijuana advocates lauded the comprise and recognized thousands of New Yorkers would benefit but that it wasn't the bill they wanted.
"We know that overly restrictive programs … can create enormous obstacles for suffering patients," Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance wrote in a statement. "We hope that the proposal being put forth today is both well regulated and flexible enough to ensure that patients who need medication get it – and get it in a timely fashion."
Key compromises include a provision that marijuana cannot be smoked for treatment. Delivery would be limited to pill, vapor, edible or oil forms produced at five sites within the state and dispensed at 20 locations, all to be chosen by the administration.
The Department of Health would oversee the program — not a committee of medical advisors originally suggested — and only doctors registered with the state would be able prescribe the medication.
Anyone practitioner found to fraudulently prescribe pot products can face felony charges and up to four years in prison. Selling medical marijuana can bring about up to a year in prison.
The original number of about 20 illnesses covered was also reduced to about a dozen — including AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, although acting Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard A. Zucker said more could be added as the program evolves.
Assuming the Legislature passes the bill before Thursday's deadline, When the law might into effect is unclear. It could be as soon as 18 months after Cuomo signs the bill or whenever the state Department of Health says it is ready to roll the pilot out.
The bill would also give Cuomo a kill-switch provision that allows him to suspend the pilot whenever he chooses under consultation by either the Health Department or the state police superintendent.
"I was totally against setting up a system that could have unintended consequences and then we were powerless to do anything about it," Cuomo said about his earlier opposition to medical marijuana without his minimum requirements.
Cuomo added: "I think this is the best of both worlds."
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter@chestersoria