HAMILTON HEIGHTS — New York State is now officially down to get high.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed new legislation into law Monday greenlighting medical marijuana to be dispensed across the state for diseases ranging from Parkinson's to Crohn's — making it the 23rd state in the country to do so.
“The legislation ... gets us the best of what medical marijuana has to offer, in the most protected and controlled way possible,” Cuomo said at a ceremonial bill signing.
Cuomo added that the bill struck the right balance between providing compassionate relief to those in need while keeping pot out of the hands of those who would abuse it.
“We’ve spent a lot of time and energy keeping young people away from drugs,” Cuomo said. "There is no doubt that medical marijuana can help people. We are here to help people.”
The law, which could take up to a year and a half to implement, will rely on guidelines established by the state Department of Health. The department will be responsible for accrediting doctors who can prescribe marijuana as well as registering patients who are eligible to purchase it, according to state officials. The DOH will also be responsible for selecting five groups to act as dispensaries, with each of them getting up to four locations apiece, Cuomo said.
Lastly, the DOH will decide the appropriate price for medical marijuana sales, which will be taxed at 7 percent, Cuomo said.
The current list of medical conditions that have so far been approved for marijuana prescriptions include: cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord tissue damage, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease (including Crohn's disease), neuropathies and Huntington’s Disease. The Department of Health will be able to add medical conditions as it sees fit, under the law.
Cuomo was clear that the law places a huge responsibility upon the DOH, and added that if there is evidence of abuse anywhere during the process, state police will be able to recommend that the law be rescinded, Cuomo said.
In addition, the law specifically prohibits medical marijuana from being smoked under any circumstance, instead limiting it to consumable marijuana through food and other items.
Health insurers will not be required to provide coverage for medical marijuana, state officials added.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, long supportive of medical marijuana in the state, praised Cuomo’s willingness to sign the bill into law.
“Times change. Public opinion changes," he said. "Our knowledge and perceptions change."