Governor Andrew Cuomo cermonially signed a medical marijuana legalization bill in New York City Monday after passing it into law over the weekend, making New York the 23rd state in the nation to legalize the drug.
His signature marks the beginning of an 18-month period in which the state must craft regulations and award contracts for the growth of the cannibis plants.
“This legislation strikes the right balance,” said Cuomo in a statement. “Medical marijuana has the capacity to do a lot of good for a lot of people who are in pain and suffering, and are in desperate need of a treatment that will provide some relief.”
Currently, the only diseases or conditions eligible for the drug include cancer, HIV or AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal-cord injuries, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies and Huntington’s disease. However, under the current law, the state’s health commissioner may add diseases to the eligible list at his discretion.
The state will award five licenses to marijuana growers dispersed throughout the state, who will be able to operate up to four dispensaries.
To ensure that the drug does not fall into the wrong hands, those eligible for treatment must ingest or administer the drug through a vaporizer or oil base. Any form of smokeable marijuana remains illegal.
“There is no doubt that medical marijuana can help people. It’s been proven in other states, there’s a whole history of information and data and research just on that topic, and we are here to help people,” said Cuomo at the ceremony.
Cuomo’s plans for medical marijuana have not been without criticism. We reached out to County Executive Rob Astorino in January, who voiced his negative opinion of Cuomo’s actions.
Cuomo tried to aleviate concerns that marijuana would be a “gateway drug” at the ceremony and referenced the “frightening” heroine epidemic that the state is currently dealing with. However, he says that the bill took so long to pass because the state was addressing these concerns.
“In this situation, government actually legislated with nuance, and it legislated with balance, so we have the medical benefits of marijuana, we also have public safety and public health concerns that are addressed,” said Cuomo.
While supporters of medical marijuana are happy that a program involving the drug is in place, they are not criticized what they saw as the bill’s shortcomings.
The Marijuana Policy Project, a foundation dedicated to the national legalization of marijuana, says that the “compromise bill falls short in several areas” on their website. While the foundation praises Cuomo’s actions involving medical marijuana, it opposes his decision to abandon his push to reform marijuana penalties.
Governor Cuomo announced in January that he will cease his push to replace jail time with a civil fine after an arrest for the possession of a small amount of marijuana, according to the foundation’s website.