New York Becomes 23rd State to Legalize Medical Marijuana–Just Not the Kind You Can Smoke


Update, 2:20 p.m.: The Compassionate Care Act passed the New York State Senate. Here is the full text.

At precisely 2:51 a.m. on Friday, June 20, the New York State Assembly passed the Compassionate Care Act, which (when the bill passes the senate, as it is widely expected to, when it is taken up around 10 a.m.) will make New York the 23rd state in the union where medical marijuana is legal…as long as you don’t smoke it. Seriously: Patients will need to use a vaporizer, pills or other extraction method. The use of joints, bongs and pipes–anything you light up–is strictly verboten.

Under the new law, physicians will have to go through a certification and registration process before they can prescribe the drug legally. Patients, likewise, will need to be certified by a doctor, and they will have to register with the Department of Health, which will provide an ID card proving one’s certification, but they will be free to carry up to 30 days supply of medical pot.

For now, only patients with serious conditions–cancer, HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and spinal cord damage–will be eligible, although more conditions could be added by the health commissioner during the bill’s first 18 months.

The legislation outlines a framework under which growers will also register with the Department of Health. Registration (which would not be available to those companies until 18 months after the bill went into effect) would last for just two years. Under the law, sharing your personal, DOH-certified doobie with anyone else will be a misdemeanor, and it will be a felony for a doctor to prescribe medical marijuana to anyone who the state decides “has no need” for it.

And, of course, now that pot is legal, the state wants its cut: Medical marijuana will be taxed at 7 percent.

Announcing his agreement with legislators on Thursday, Governor Cuomo said the bill “strikes the right balance”–which is a nice way of saying that he got virtually every concession he demanded in a Daily News article published earlier this week, including that prohibition on smoking marijuana. (Cuomo believes allowing smoking would undermine anti-tobacco smoking efforts the state has undertaken in recent years.)

See also: With Time Running Out, New York Must Decide on Medical Marijuana

Losing the fight to keep smoking in the bill was undoubtedly difficult for its sponsors and supporters. In a radio interview on Monday, Diane Savino, the Compassionate Care Act’s sponsor in the Senate, took pains to explain why smoking was “the only method” that will provide relief to some patients, it’s also easier for patients to manage their dosages if smoking.

Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance, one of the groups that lobbied the hardest to pass the Compassionate Care Act, said in a statement on Thursday that by prohibiting smoking, Cuomo was hurting poor patients the most. “The cost of purchasing a vaporizer and the extract products will likely leave many low-income patients behind, and there is little research on the long-term health effects of using extracts,” Sayegh observed.

But that’s not the only provision of the bill that seems bizarrely designed to prevent poor New Yorkers from receiving medical marijuana. One of the stranger passages in the bill, per Capital New York, appears to ban the homeless from obtaining prescriptions by requiring that any applicant prove he or she has “the right to use sufficient land, buildings and other premises (which shall be specified in the application) and equipment to properly carry on the activity.” In lieu of proof that you have somewhere to get high, the bill says the patient can choose to post a bond of “not less than two million dollars.”

The bill’s sponsors remained buoyant on Thursday, in spite of the last-minute compromises. “Today marks an historic victory for thousands of New Yorkers who will no longer have to suffer needlessly during their courageous medical battles. Under this bill, New Yorkers will now have the same access to life-changing treatment options that others around the country have had,” Savino said.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who has introduced the Compassionate Care Act every year since 1997, thanked former Governor Eliot Spitzer and his health commissioner, Dr. Richard Daines, who he said “provided extraordinary assistance” in crafting the bill that passed the Assembly on Friday. In a statement before the vote, Gottfried called it “a tremendous victory for patients.”