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New York legalizes medical marijuana

The New York State Senate passed legislation yesterday legalizing marijuana for certified medical uses. The bill passed in the Assembly earlier and Governor Andrew Cuomo will sign the bill into law. “The Compassionate Care Act” allows physicians to prescribe approved forms of marijuana to patients suffering from a limited number of conditions. The bill specifically prohibits smoking as a method of ingesting.

Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed support for legalization of medical marijuana in his State of the State address on January 8, 2014.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

With this law, New York joins 21 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing this medical option for patients suffering severe illnesses. The organization Compassionate Care NY campaigned for the bill’s passage, citing its proved effectiveness in relieving suffering without the harmful effects of additive narcotics and the drug’s ability to reduce incidents of epileptic seizures in children. A Siena Research Institute poll found that the majority of New Yorkers approve of legalizing marijuana for medical use.

The Department of Health (DOH) will register medical practitioners who have undergone training, allowing them to certify patients in need of the drug. The DOH will issue patients and caregivers with ID cards that must be presented when purchasing medical marijuana products. Doctors may prescribe marijuana for cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, nervous tissue damage of the spinal cord, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and Huntington’s Disease. The DOH may expand this list, possibly including post-traumatic stress disorder, in the future.

"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. At the same time, medical marijuana is a difficult issue because there are risks to public health and safety that have to be averted. I believe this bill is the right balance.” — Governor Andrew Cuomo

Practitioners may not certify themselves and will be charged with a Class-E felony for knowingly certifying an individual who has no medical need for the drug. Patients who sell or trade their drug will be guilty of a misdemeanor. The law also creates a 7-percent excise tax on the sale of medical marijuana. Proceeds of the excise tax will be split between the county where the drug was produced and the county where is was dispensed, with portions going to Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and the Division of Criminal Justice Services to enforce measures related to the legislation.

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