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    N.Y. allows medical marijuana, with tough limits

    New York officials and medical marijuana advocates joined Governor Andrew Cuomo for Monday’s signing ceremony.
    Seth Wenig/Associated Press
    New York officials and medical marijuana advocates joined Governor Andrew Cuomo for Monday’s signing ceremony.

    NEW YORK — New York has become the 23d state to authorize marijuana as a medical treatment — though it will have one of the more restrictive programs in the country.

    Under legislation signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, patients with one of 10 diseases will be able to obtain nonsmokeable versions of the drug. Officials chose to prohibit distribution of marijuana plant material to discourage nonmedical use.

    The law requires medical marijuana be ingested or consumed as a vapor. The details of exactly how the drug is to be administered will be worked out by the state Health Department.


    The law ‘‘gets us the best that medical marijuana has to offer in the most protected, controlled way possible,’’ Cuomo, a Democrat, said Monday at a ceremonial bill-signing event in New York City. The actual bill was signed Saturday.

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    ‘‘This is the smartest approach that any state has taken thus far,’’ Cuomo said.

    Some advocates for medical marijuana contend New York’s law is too restrictive, however, and said they’ll push lawmakers to expand it. Of the 23 states that have legalized medical marijuana, only one — Minnesota — prohibits the smokeable version of the drug. Advocates also say the state should allow people with more kinds of illnesses to have access to the treatment.

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

    The medication isn’t expected to be available for at least 18 months as state regulators, physicians, and potential distributors of the drug work to implement the new program.


    Under the law, the state will approve and regulate up to five businesses authorized to grow and distribute the drug. The operators could each have up to four dispensaries statewide.

    Patients would get prescriptions from physicians approved by the state to participate in the program. Approved conditions include AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal cord injuries, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and Huntington’s disease.

    Also Monday, Washington state issued its first retail marijuana licenses. Officials sent a series of overnight e-mails alerting marijuana-shop proprietors that they would finally be able to open for business.

    Randy Simmons, the state Liquor Control Board’s project manager for legal marijuana, said Sunday night that the first two dozen stores were being notified early to give them an extra few hours to get cannabis on their shelves before they are allowed to open their doors at 8 a.m. Tuesday — an opening that’s expected to be accompanied by high prices, shortages, and rationing.

    The issuance of the retail licenses marked a step that’s been 20 months in the making. Washington and Colorado stunned many politicians by voting in November 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21 and to create state-licensed systems for growing, selling, and taxing the marijuana. Sales began in Colorado on Jan. 1.


    It remained unclear how many of the shops being licensed in Washington planned to open on Tuesday. Officials eventually expect to have more than 300 recreational marijuana shops across the state.