NY approves medical marijuana

Officials expect availability in about 18 months


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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.

By MICHAEL VIRTANEN
— The New York Legislature voted overwhelmingly on June 20 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, but the drug won't be available in the state for at least 18 months while regulations are written and five state-approved producers and distributors are 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.

“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 in 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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