New York Legislature approves medical marijuana

People in the gallery celebrate after the Senate voted to legalize medical marijuana at the Capitol on Friday, June 20, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
People in the gallery celebrate after the Senate voted to legalize medical marijuana at the Capitol on Friday, June 20, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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

The 49-10 approval by the Senate followed the 117-13 vote earlier Friday by the Assembly. Cuomo was expected to sign it shortly.

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It will make New York the 23rd state to legalize marijuana for medical uses, but the drug won’t be available in the state for at least 18 months while regulations are written and five producers and distributors are state-approved and licensed. The Health Department will establish appropriate doses, with prescriptions limited to 30 days and short extensions. Insurers won’t pay for it, making it essentially a cash business.


Twenty-two other states and the District of Columbia have already passed legislation legalizing medical marijuana. Here is a complete list:

  • Alaska, passed in 1998
  • Arizona, passed in 2010
  • California, passed in 1996
  • Colorado, passed in 2000
  • Connecticut, passed in 2012
  • DC, passed in 2010
  • Delaware, passed in 2011
  • Hawaii, passed in 2000
  • Illinois, passed in 2013
  • Maine, passed in 1999
  • Maryland, passed in 2014
  • Massachusetts, passed in 2012
  • Michigan, passed in 2008
  • Minnesota, passed in 2014
  • Montana, passed in 2004
  • Nevada, passed in 2000
  • New Hampshire, passed in 2013
  • New Jersey, passed in 2010
  • New Mexico, passed in 2007
  • Oregon, passed in 1998
  • Rhode Island, passed in 2006
  • Vermont, passed in 2004
  • Washington, passed in 1998

“If it were up to me, we would start tomorrow,” said Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat and chief Senate sponsor. “But we have to work within the regulations that exist.”

Many senators said it will help alleviate suffering of children with seizure disorders, as well as others, while restrictions pushed by Cuomo and Senate Republicans removed some concerns it will fuel further drug addictions and expand the black market.

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 10 diseases, including cancer, epilepsy, AIDS and neuropathy.

It requires physicians to register and get a few hours of training to prescribe it for patients with listed conditions, while establishing a new felony for doctors who knowingly give it to others. Patients are prohibited from sharing.

“The point about it is we’ve got a crisis,” said Sen. William Larkin, a military veteran and Orange County Republican whose committee vote earlier was critical in advancing the bill. Among the disorders the Health Department must consider whether to add to the treatment list within 18 months is post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some parents brought children in wheelchairs to lobby legislators, saying the drug can hugely reduce the frequency of their seizures. Advocates who watched the three-hour Senate debate clapped and cheered after the final vote.

Sen. Thomas Libous, a Binghamton Republican with metastatic cancer, voted against the bill, saying the marijuana won’t cure anything and he’s concerned it’s giving people false hope.

Sen. Kemp Hannon, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said there should be peer-reviewed clinical trials first, not the Legislature approving a new drug.

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