(Adds bill details; state senate vote set for Friday, changes
byline; previous NEW YORK)
By TG Branfalt Jr
ALBANY, N.Y., June 20 Governor Andrew Cuomo and
state lawmakers announced a deal on Thursday that would allow
limited access to medical marijuana in New York, making it the
23rd U.S. state to legalize some kind of availability of
cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
The proposed medical cannabis program, one of the nation's
most restrictive, would permit the active ingredients of pot to
be inhaled as a vapor or ingested, but prohibit the smoking of
Exactly how medical marijuana products will be formulated in
New York will be left up to the state's Health Department under
the program, which the governor would have discretion to halt at
any time, and which will expire after seven years, unless
lawmaker reauthorise it.
The state Senate had been expected to give final legislative
approval to the deal in a vote originally set for late Thursday
night. But Senate leaders agreed to Republican demands to delay
it until Friday morning to give lawmakers more time for review.
Democrats control the state Assembly, but Republicans share
control of the Senate with a breakaway group of Democrats.
"I always supported the concept of 'If you can get the
medical benefits of medical marijuana to a suffering patient,
clearly you would want to do that,'" Cuomo, a Democrat, told a
news conference in Albany, the state capital.
"My trepidation has always been the risk. This bill
virtually eliminates the risk."
Under the plan, the Health Department would license five
private companies in the state to produce and distribute medical
marijuana products through dispensaries.
Patients aged at least 21, who suffer from any one of a list
of specified ailments - epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Lou
Gehrig's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease,
neuropathies, spinal chord injuries, cancer and HIV/AIDS - would
be eligible to use cannabis as treatment.
The measure further allows the Health Department to approve
other "serious conditions" for use of the drug as needed.
Patients will get a registration card allowing purchase of
the drug from a licensed dispensary; only doctors involved in
their direct care will be allowed to certify need for the drug.
The bill makes it a felony for any doctor to falsely certify
a patient's eligibility, or for a patient to defraud the program
with false certification. It makes it a misdemeanor for patients
to traffic in the prescribed drug.
The legislation has been the subject of heated last-minute
negotiations as New York's current lawmaking session drew to a
close. Versions of the bill have been approved by the liberal
state Assembly several times since the 1990s.
In May, Minnesota became the 22nd of the 50 states, in
addition to the District of Columbia, to allow some sort of
access to medical marijuana, advocacy group the Marijuana Policy
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Edith Honan in New
York; Editing by Will Dunham, Steve Gorman and Clarence