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New York State Legalizes Medical Marijuana

medical-marijuana-cancerOn Monday at a news conference, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act, which makes New York the 23rd state to permit the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The act allows doctors to prescribe marijuana in an ingested or vaporized form to patients with serious ailments that are recognized by the state on a predefined list of conditions:

  • Cancer
  • Lou Gehrig’s Disease
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Spinal-Cord Injuries
  • Epilepsy
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Neuropathies
  • Huntington’s Disease

The commissioner of health of New York state, Howard Zucker, will also be able to add other conditions to this list at his discretion.

The state will award five contracts to private marijuana growers, who will each be permitted to open up to four dispensaries to distribute the drug to certified patients across the state.

Many African-American patients will benefit from having this medication available to them to help with the pain and suffering of their condition. But smoking cannabis, even for medicinal reasons, is still illegal in New York state and the list of conditions is too short.

“It’s a first step and it’s an important step that will improve thousands of people’s lives,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state operations at the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project, said of New York’s law to the Boston Globe. “But it will leave others out.”

In fact in a penal system that is shown to give harsher penalties to people of color for drug infractions, in January, Cuomo abandoned the push to decriminalize the possession of marijuana in small quantities.

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., a petition to join Colorado in legalizing the recreational use of the drug was submitted to the D.C. Board of Elections with 58,000 signatures for a November vote. From 2009 to 2011, nine out of 10 people arrested for marijuana possession were Black.

As the medicinal program in New York rolls out over the next 18 months, advocates will see whether patients, especially low-income patients who may need to purchase a vaporizer, will have access to the drug.

New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Democrat, who has been a proponent of medical marijuana for nearly 20 years as a legislator, said in a statement that the bill is “a tremendous victory for patients.”

S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, and visit her website at

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