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New York Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana (file/credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

Medical marijuana (file/credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The New York Legislature voted overwhelmingly Friday to legalize marijuana to alleviate pain and other symptoms for some severely ill patients, approving a compromised reached among legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The 49-10 approval by the Senate followed the 113-13 vote earlier Friday by the Assembly. Cuomo was expected to sign it shortly. It will make New York the 23rd state to legalize marijuana for medical uses.

“This is a major victory for patients,” stated Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried, who has been sponsoring medical marijuana legislation since 1997. “If the patient and physician agree that a severe debilitating or life-threatening condition should be treated with medical marijuana, it is cruel for government to stand in the way.”

“Today marks an historic victory for thousands of New Yorkers who will no longer have to suffer needlessly during their courageous medical battles,” stated Sen. Diane Savino. “Under this bill, New Yorkers will now have the same access to life-changing treatment options that others around the country have had.”

The bill doesn’t allow the drug to be sold in plant form or smoked. It could be administered through a vaporizer or in an oil base.

Marijuana could be prescribed for at least 10 diseases — including epilepsy, AIDS, ALS and neuropathy — under the direction of the state’s Health Department. The health commissioner would be able to add more illnesses.

Many senators said it will help alleviate suffering of children with seizures.

Cuomo told WCBS 880 the compromise struck the right balance.

“We wanted to do it, but we wanted to do it right, and that was the balance we had to find in this piece of legislation,” Cuomo said. “And I think we did. It is a system that will provide the benefits to people we need it, which can be significant, but it is a system that also has safeguards.”

The drug won’t be available in New York for at least 18 months while regulations are written and five state-approved producers and distributors are chosen.

The registered growing organizations would be allowed up to four dispensaries each throughout the state, with the counties where the marijuana is grown and sold receiving revenue from an excise tax. Under the stipulation, cultivators must grow the drug indoors in a secure facility.

Doctors would have to undergo training to be eligible to prescribe the drug and could face a felony charge punishable by up to four years of prison if they write fraudulent prescriptions.

The bill would not require insurance companies to cover the cost of the drug.

Patients who sell their prescribed marijuana could face a misdemeanor. Patients would be required to carry registration cards showing they are authorized to possess the drug and can be prescribed a maximum 30-day supply.

Cuomo also noted that he personally could shut down the entire program if it does not work out.

“If we believe at any point the risks outweigh the rewards, we have the ability to shut the system down, and I have that ability personally to shut the system down,” the governor said.

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