Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday he had signed legislation making New York the 23rd state to allow medical marijuana, calling his approach, which forbids smoking of the drug and includes strict limits, the "smartest" any state had taken so far.
Under the guidelines, access to the drug will be limited to patients with very serious and terminal illnesses, the drug can only be administered through vaporizing, oils and edibles, and Cuomo reserves the right to disband the program at any time.
"This new law takes an important step toward bringing relief to patients living with extraordinary pain and illness," Cuomo told a news conference at the New York Academy of Medicine, flanked by lawmakers and 9-year-old Amanda Houser, who suffers from seizures.
The legislation "gets us the best that medical marijuana has to offer in the most protected, controlled way possible," the Democratic governor said. "I really believe that this is the smartest approach that any state has taken thus far."
Other states have approved far more permissive laws. Washington state and Colorado decriminalized recreational use of marijuana in 2012. In other states, patients can grow their own pot, obtain it from a dispensary, or both. Medical marijuana is also legal in the District of Columbia.
The signing of the New York law came after years of advocacy by proponents of medical marijuana. While applauding passage of the new law, advocates said it was not as comprehensive as patients had hoped and the timeline was too slow.
"I'm heartened that the governor understands the medicinal benefits of medical cannabis. My son and so many others need this medicine right away," said Missy Miller, whose son Oliver suffered a brain stem injury in utero and now as a teenager has hundreds of seizures a day.
"The eighteen month timeline for implementation suggested in the bill is simply too long for Oliver," Miller said in a statement issued by the Drug Policy Alliance.
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the state's goal would be to get the program up and running "swiftly, safely and efficiently."
The assembly has been approving versions of the bills for the better part of two decades. The current bill passed both houses of the Legislature on June 20.
The conditions covered include cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal cord injuries, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy, neuropathy and Huntington's disease.