New York Readies Restrictive Medical Marijuana Law

New bill caps number of dispensaries, limits eligible ailments and prohibits medicinal smoking

New York is inching forward on a medical marijuana bill that critics have called overly restrictive. Credit: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg/Getty

While states like Washington, Colorado and Alaska have enacted laws decriminalizing weed, New York is only now moving forward with a plan to legalize medical marijuana. However, when the lawmakers in Albany do finally sign off on the bill, the state's Health Department has placed so many restrictions on medical marijuana that many of its potential patients won't be able to get their hands on it. For those who do qualify, another odd restriction dictates that the medical marijuana can't be smoked.

The New York Times reports that the new bill would only allow for 20 medical dispensaries, run by five organizations, to be established throughout the state, which would handcuff accessibility for many potential patients. Only patients suffering from a shortlist of 10 "severe debilitating or life-threatening" conditions, ranging from multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's Disease to ALS and AIDS, would be allowed to acquire medical marijuana.

The Health Department's bill also defines "terminally ill" as patients with a "life expectancy of one year or less," a restriction that would prevent the elderly from accessing the drug. Perhaps strangest of all, the law prohibits the smoking of medical marijuana. Instead, the drug will be administered as an "individual dose" of raw or concentrated "ingestible or sub-lingual" medical marijuana.

New York Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, one of the politicians struggling to bring medical marijuana to the Empire State, criticized the Health Department's provisions, telling the Times, "There are people from very, very young children to very elderly New Yorkers who are going to continue to suffer unnecessarily" because of "a long list of senseless burdensome restrictions on patients and organizations."

New York's Health Department defended their tight restrictions and the "safeguards" they've put in place, saying "the state developed the regulations through this very critical lens to ensure that the entire program would not be subject to enforcement action or legal challenge."

If the measure passes, New York, which harbors one of the most severe stances on narcotics thanks to the state's Rockefeller Drug Laws, would join 23 states in allowing the use of medical marijuana. Barring any setbacks, New York's medical marijuana law should go into effect by 2016.