Gov. Andrew Cuomo made New York the 23rd state to legalize forms of medical marijuana to treat certain illnesses, calling it the country's smartest approach to the issue so far.
"It is complicated and it required a nuanced approach," Cuomo said Monday at the New York Academy of Medicine in Manhattan's Upper East Side, "and government isn’t good at nuance … In this situation, government actually legislated with nuance and it legislated with balance."
That balance includes a waiting period of no less than 18 months before the program can go live.
The earliest New Yorkers might see the law go into effect is January 2016, at which time patients with illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease can seek prescriptions from licensed doctors who undergo specialized training.
The medication will only be available through non-smoking delivery systems, such as oils, edibles and vaporizers, and will only be available from 20 sanctioned dispensaries. Supplies will be grown by five manufacturers approved by the Health Department.
However, with many of the specifics yet to be sorted, the law will actually only go into effect as soon as the state has developed a viable program. And the governor can shut whatever program does roll out at any time with consultation from either the health commissioner or the state police.
Kate Hintz of North Salem in Westchester County praised the law. Her daughter Morgan suffers from a life-threatening seizure disorder that would be covered by the law.
"I am saddened, however, that this law suggests an implementation stage that could take up to 18 months," Hintz said in a statement released by reform advocates the Drug Policy Alliance. "It is unfair that we are again asked to wait while patients in other states access systems and medicines as we speak."
At the bill signing, Cuomo defended the compromise laid out between the administration and the Legislature.
"We want to help people," Cuomo said. "It makes total sense for New York State to take this advancement of medical marijuana. However, at the same time, you want to make sure you do it right."
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter@chestersoria