New York is now the 23rd state to make marijuana legally available to those who require it to treat a medical condition. Doctors can prescribe marijuana in a nonsmokable form to patients with illnesses on a predetermined list of applicable ailments.
New York's law is one of the most restrictive among the 23 states with medical marijuana laws. It permits only oils and edible substances, and does not lift the ban on the plant itself. Marijuana advocates argue that this will increase the price of marijuana unreasonably, potentially making it not an option for many low-income patients who need it.
"Patients are advocating for the day when policymakers boast that their state's medical marijuana program will help patients the most, rather than that theirs is the most restrictive in the country," says Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access.
Marijuana is a suitable treatment for a number of conditions, the most prominent of which being seizures. Parents of children with uncontrollable seizures are some of the biggest supporters of the law, as cannabis oil has proven to be an effective way to combat the symptoms. In New York, Missy Miller was a strong proponent of the legalization of marijuana due to her son Oliver. Oliver suffered a stroke in utero, and among the many consequences are seizures which can occur more than a dozen times in a single day. Miller is happy that the law has finally been passed, but is concerned about the time it will take to go into effect.
"I am quite concerned about the 18-month implementation, though, because Oliver does not have that time to wait," Miller says. "I am hopeful that some kind of expedited access plan can be worked out to help those with urgent need like Oliver."
New York's law is conservative in other ways as well, including criminal penalties for those that attempt to defraud the system in order to gain access to marijuana for recreational purposes. The law also includes an easy out which lets the governor remove it at any time on the recommendation of the commissioner of health or the state police superintendent.
For many patients who would benefit from access to marijuana, the law is the fulfillment of a long push toward legalization. However, advocacy groups take issue with its many restrictions, citing it as one of the worst medical marijuana laws in the country. Opponents of the law claim that it was motivated not by its potential for public good, but by political aspirations.