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article imageNew York legalizes medical marijuana

By Ryan Hite     Jun 20, 2014 in Politics
Albany - After weeks of intense negotiations, New York State becomes the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana in some form, although many are disappointed with the results of the compromises.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other leaders on Thursday agreed to legalize certain forms of marijuana for patients with a very limited range of diseases.
The deal came during a ton of last-minute negotiations in the Capitol of New York State, as lawmakers and the governor worked to finalize many bills before the Legislature goes home for the rest of the year. The Senate and the Assembly both passed a bill letting New York City lower its default speed limit to 25 miles an hour. It now only needs to be signed by the governor to become a law.
After days of negotiations, the pot bill was more limited than what many lawmakers wanted and the governor warned he would sign it only with the strict requirements.
It permits only doctors to prescribe marijuana in forms including oil-based and vapor to people with about six or so conditions or diseases that warrant its use.
But it didn't legalize forms of the drug that people would smoke, making the effort much narrower in scope than many other marijuana laws around the country. It also allows the governor to suspend it at any time and would expire in seven years, making that future legislature decide if they want to renew it.
"Medical marijuana has the capacity to do a lot of good for a lot of people who are in pain and suffering," Cuomo, a Democrat, said at a news conference. "At the same time, it's a difficult issue, because there are also risks that have to be averted—public-health, public-safety risks. And we believe this bill strikes the right balance."
Cuomo had said he wanted to curb marijuana's potential to become a "gateway" drug, citing reasons to ban the smokable variety, a worry shared by some Republicans whose votes were critical to the bills success.
While Cuomo exerted significant influence over the final product, the administration was not to become involved in shaping the bill until late in the game.
The bill now pending in the Legislature is largely the creation of its sponsors, two New York City senators whom had advocated for medical marijuana legalization for nearly 20 years. It faced resistance in the more conservative Senate until the politics surrounding the issue and the public support for the practice began to shift earlier this year with legalization in part or full around the country.
Legalizing marijuana in the state has come and gone in New York, but the issue was always along party lines. The program today includes a ton of other limitations. Physicians must get training before prescribing pot and patients must be certified by licensed practitioners and get a card from the state Department of Health, which would oversee the program. Dispensaries will be able to get registrations 18 months after the bill's passage.
On Thursday, many medical-marijuana advocates said they were disappointed by the restrictions placed on the program.
"This is not the bill we wanted," said Gabriel Sayegh, director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New York.
Savino had described several of Cuomo's requests, particularly the exclusion of smoking, but said on Thursday that she wouldn't prevent a compromise that could help patients.
"You have to evaluate the whole program," she said. "If that becomes the only thing that stands in the way, you can't say no to that. It just doesn't make any sense."
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